UPDATE 1-Chile court rejects approval of Endesa coal power project
(Adds court's comments, background)
SANTIAGO, Aug 1 (Reuters) - A Chilean appeals court rejected a ministerial group's decision on Thursday and blocked the construction of energy firm Endesa's $1.4 billion, coal-fired thermoelectric project.
In December, a Chilean ministerial group lifted a suspension on Endesa's 740-megawatt Punta Alcade project after an environmental commission had blocked it in June on the grounds that the plant could cause pollution.
"The decision in question has put at risk and threatened the right of inhabitants to live in a pollution-free environment," the appeals court said.
It ordered the ministerial group to reconvene and hear arguments against the Punta Alcalde project before reaching a new decision on the project's potential environmental impact.
The ministerial group could file a further appeal as could Endesa.
An Endesa spokesman said the company would not comment on the matter until it has had time to study the court's decision.
Environmental groups are increasingly opposing power projects ranging from coal-fired thermoelectric plants in Chile's northern Atacama, the world's driest desert, to hydropower dams in the wild southern Patagonia region.
Marine conservation group Oceana has decried Punta Alcalde, saying the project will saturate the coastal area of Huasco, already home to thermoelectric plant Guacolda and a factory belonging to steelmaker CAP.
The two 370-megawatt units are planned in Chile's Atacama region, close to Antofagasta Minerals' Los Pelambres mine, Barrick Gold's Pascua Lama and Lumina Copper's Caserones mine, among others. Several energy and mining projects in the Atacama region are reeling from legal setbacks.
Many in economically stratified Chile feel they have not benefited from the Andean country's copper boom. Massive power projects, in part destined to satiate energy-intensive mines, have triggered growing opposition.
(Reporting by Erik Lopez; Writing Anthony Esposito; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz and Ken Wills)