Liberty Mutual puts Australian coal project on hold

MELBOURNE, April 30 (Reuters) - Insurer Liberty Mutual will not be filing an environmental impact assessment for a coal project in Australia, it said on Friday, missing a deadline as it weighs alternatives for the proposed mine.

Community groups worried about pollution and climate change have been pushing the firm to scrap the project, which is expected to produce 5 million tonnes per year of a type of coal mostly used in steel-making but also suitable for power plants.

“As part of our investment processes, we’ve been evaluating alternatives for our Baralaba investment for some time and will not be submitting an environmental impact assessment for the South Mine at this stage,” a Liberty Mutual spokeswoman said.

“We remain committed to collaborating with all stakeholders,” she added in emailed comments.

Liberty Mutual did not say if it would seek an extension of Friday’s deadline from authorities in the northeastern state of Queensland and did not elaborate on the alternatives being considered.

The group leading the fight against the Baralaba South project, Save the Dawson, welcomed the company’s decision not to file.

“This has been a 10-year process. We need certainty. This project needs to be withdrawn,” said group campaigner Paul Stephenson.

The activist group spurred a review of Liberty Mutual’s status in the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment group, which the company formally joined in December.

Save the Dawson is counting on the state government to stick to a promise not to grant any further extensions for the project to seek approval, Stephenson said.

The Queensland government had no immediate comment on the Baralaba South project. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)