The Guardian • Issue #2060

Survivors take on big coal

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2060
A coal miners hat that has been hung up.

Photo: (CC0).

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action have praised environmental justice groups for launching a fresh Federal Court challenge, arguing that the Environment Minister can and must consider the impacts of climate change in assessing new coal and gas projects.

Environmental Justice Australia and the Environment Council of Central Queensland are challenging the decision of the Environment Minister to not reconsider the assessment criteria of three new coal projects, one of which is Whitehaven’s Narrabri extension, in central west NSW.

Bushfire survivor and BSCA spokesperson Fiona Lee said, “It is disappointing that the Environment Minister has stated that she will not consider the climate impacts of Whitehaven coal’s Narrabri coal expansion on Australia’s iconic environments and species.

“The mining and burning of coal and gas is warming our climate, pushing species and environments to extinction and worsening bushfires that have already devastated Australian communities. We must stop adding fuel to the fire and so we urge the Environment Minister to fulfil her responsibility and assess the climate impacts of new coal and gas projects.”


Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action are also in a separate legal fight in New South Wales against Whitehaven’s coal expansion in Narrabri. The organisation is currently waiting on the outcome of a case before the state’s Land and Environment Court.

In this NSW action BSCA, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, is seeking a judicial review of the April 2022 approval of the Whitehaven Coal project in Narrabri by the Independent Planning Commission.

“Although these court cases are in completely different court jurisdictions, they share the same goal,” said BSCA’s Fiona Lee.

“People are turning to the courts to force decision makers to consider the impacts new coal and gas projects have in fuelling climate change, and increasing the likelihood of homes and lives lost in bushfires.”

Last February bushfire survivors took their fight against climate change to the courts, arguing that approving new fossil fuel projects and expansions is unreasonable given what we know about the threat of climate change and climate impacts that we are already experiencing.

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action were appealing an Independent Planning Commission (IPC) decision to approve a Whitehaven application to expand its Narrabri coal mine in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

The approval extends the life of the mine from 2031 to 2044 and allows some of the longest (10 kilometres) and widest (400 metres) underground longwalls in Australia.

In approving the extension, the IPC agreed that the project is a “gassy mine” but relied upon the hope of future, uncertain technology to reduce methane levels.

BSCA’s Fiona Lee, who lost her home to a bushfire in 2019, said the IPC’s approval of the coal mine showed that planning decisions had not kept up with community expectations, and the need to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Continuing to allow coal mines to expand – especially highly polluting ones – has a direct impact on Australians’ safety and security,” Lee said. “The burning of coal, gas, and oil worsens the impacts of climate change, and we are already seeing bushfires and other extreme weather increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change.

“We know that the future of coal is limited. Now is the time to support our rural communities to transition away from coal and focus on building sustainable, prosperous alternatives. Approving new mines is adding to the problem and making the solution and emissions reduction targets even harder to achieve.”

In the court, BSCA argued that it is legally unreasonable for the NSW government to approve this super polluting mine, and unreasonable to find that the mine is in the public interest.

“How can the continuation of jobs in a doomed sector and the private profits enjoyed by only a few outweigh the extreme costs of climate change to the lives of every person in NSW, now and in the future?” Lee said.

“Bushfire survivors, including my family, know first-hand the impacts of climate change. We want to limit future impacts to our families and communities across the country, which is why we’re calling on the court to recognise that it’s not consistent with the law or in the public interest to allow mining companies to expand their operations in Australia.”

BSCA was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) in the case.

EDO Special Counsel Matt Floro said: “The IPC has a duty to make legally reasonable, rational planning decisions in the public interest. Our clients will argue the IPC’s approval of a major new source of climate pollution is legally unreasonable and irrational.

“The climate crisis has already begun, and Australians everywhere are highly vulnerable to its impacts. There is a huge body of scientific evidence that we must leave coal and gas in the ground to maintain a liveable planet. Approving more coal mines flies in the face of all the evidence.”

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