Critically endangered forest to be cleared after Court dismisses challenge to stop coal mines

The Federal Court today dismissed challenges to the approvals, by the former Federal Environment Minister, of two coal mines in north western NSW which will clear critically endangered forests containing endangered plant and animal species.

20 December 2013

Northern Inland Council for the Environment, represented by community legal centre EDO NSW, appealed the Federal Environment Minister’s approval granted earlier this year of the two coal mines in the Leard State Forest, near Boggabri.

The new Maules Creek mine, owned by Whitehaven Coal, will produce 13 million tonnes of coal per year for 21 years. The other proposal is an expansion of the existing Boggabri Mine, owned by Idemitsu, which will allow the mining of 7 million tonnes per year.

The mines will result in the clearing of over 600 hectares of the critically endangered Box Gum Woodland, as well as loss of habitat for the endangered Swift Parrot, the endangered Regent Honeyeater, the vulnerable Greater Long-eared Bat, and the endangered climbing plant species Tylophera linearis.

The Federal Court today found that there was no error in the decision-making process. The Court also found that Minister had the power to approve the clearing of the Leard State Forest before biodiversity offsets have been established. The judge noted “this would undoubtedly be undesirable from the perspective of the environmental protection and preservation...” but was nevertheless permitted by the law. (Offsets are parcels of land which are intended to compensate for the loss habitat for endangered species)

EDO principal solicitor Sue Higginson said: “This decision, amongst other things, confirms that the process for establishing biodiversity offsets under our Federal environmental laws fails to protect places of high environmental value such as the critically endangered Box Gum Woodland in the Leard State Forest”.

“Basically, the law as it stands allows for a proponent to say that it will offset impacts even if those offsets don’t currently exist.

“This was an important area of law to be tested because offsets are regularly used to justify major projects like the Boggabri and Maules Creek mines which involve clearing of large tracts of critically endangered forest.”

A Federal government approval was required as there were significant impacts on nationally endangered species in the area.