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By Rob Taylor and Fayen Wong
CANBERRA, July 15 Australia's Queensland state is considering new coal mines and the country's first new export terminal in 25 years, investments that could increase shipments from the world's largest exporter of the commodity by 40 percent.
But the announcement has drawn fire on the eve of a report on emissions trading as Australia, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter per person, looks to lead Asia on carbon trading.
Australia has benefitted hugely from a near-trebling of prices in just a year caused by surging Asian demand but also shipping bottlenecks at home, with supply tightness not seen easing for at least four years.
The Premier of Queensland state, Anna Bligh, said on Tuesday she was looking at a "trifecta" of options for new coal developments in the tropical state, including three new coal projects that could boost output by 75 million tonnes a year and a coal port with a capacity of up to 100 million tonnes.
"These projects could see this state fully harness the opportunities the resources boom can offer by delivering a 40 percent increase in our coal exporting capacity," Bligh said in a statement.
But the state's coal expansion plans, which come on the eve of the federal government's release of a green paper on emissions trading, has drawn criticism from environmental groups, which said the proposal was at odds with government efforts to curb coal-fired emissions to fight climate warming.
Coal prices have rocketed in the past year as key exporting nations, faced with infrastructure constraints, struggle to keep up with global demand.
Analysts have forecast coal prices to stay high until at least 2012, when new port capacities in Australia, South Africa, and Russia come online.
Bligh said her state was considering a A$5.3 billion proposal by Canada-listed Waratah Coal WCI.V for a new mine near Alpha, in the Galilee basin, producing 25 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for export, mainly to Japan and South Korea by 2012. The project also has the potential to expand its output to 50 million tones per year.
The Galilee basin is Australia's largest undeveloped coal reserve with potential to yield up to 20 billion tonnes.
The proposed 100 million-tonnes-per-year coal port, which would be Australia's first new coal port in 25 years, would be built near Shoalwater Bay, between Rockhampton and Mackay, on the central Queensland coast, Bligh said.
A second Bowen Basin Growth project by BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L)-Mitsubishi Alliance would open two new mines, helping boost exports by 20 million tonnes. A third proposal was for a 30 million tonne-a-year open-cut mine near Wandoan by Xstrata XTA.L, Bligh said.
CARBON TRADING SCHEME
Australia, the world's biggest per-head greenhouse gas polluter, will on Wednesday unveil an options paper for how a carbon-emissions trading scheme could reshape the A$1 trillion ($972 billion) economy to make it less reliant on coal-fired electricity for energy.
Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is expected to include fuel on Wednesday to make the national emissions scheme as broad as possible on start-up in 2010, even as unions warned of thousands of job losses the scheme would bring. Her paper will not have any short or medium-term emissions targets, with the government wary of angering voters already spooked by inflation at 16-year highs and rising home loan repayment costs in a nation obsessed by house ownership.
Instead, Wong will provide direction for a trading regime to be among the world's most comprehensive, with the government to offer payments to motorists and households compensating for the inevitable price rises the emissions system will bring.
Wong at the weekend said the scheme would target 1,000 of Australia's biggest polluters, with 450 required to complete emissions audit reports in the first year.
That would capture some of the country's biggest corporate names, including BHP Billiton, Xstrata XTA.L and Rio Tinto Ltd/Plc (RIO.L), power companies AGL Energy AGK.AX and Origin Energy (ORG.AX), and transport company Toll Holdings TOL.AX. ($1=A$1.03) (Editing by Michael Urquhart)