Gloucester hearing begins - EDO NSW

Gloucester’s Rocky Hill coal mine 'climate change' hearing begins

A landmark hearing in Australian courts that starts today will hear expert evidence about why the Rocky Hill Coal Project must be rejected to ensure that the carbon budget required to meet the global Paris climate commitment to keep temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius is not exceeded.

13 August 2018

Emeritus Professor Will Steffen and energy analyst Tim Buckley plus over 60 community objectors will appear in court as part of hearings in the NSW Land and Environment Court in which Gloucester Resources Limited and Yancoal Australia are challenging the refusal to approve the Rocky Hill Coal Project (the Project) and the associated modification to the Stratford Coal Extension Project. 

Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO NSW) is acting for Groundswell Gloucester Inc, a non-profit community group based in Gloucester which is appearing as a respondent in this case.

There is a range of views held in the community about the Project. Some support it in the belief it will bring jobs and prosperity to the region. EDO NSW’s client Groundswell Gloucester and the many community objectors believe it will have unacceptable social, environmental and economic impacts and that the rejection of the Projects should stand.

David Morris CEO/Solicitor, EDO NSW said:
“This is a once in a generation case. It is the first hearing of its kind since the historic Paris Agreement where a superior jurisdiction court in Australia will hear expert testimony about climate change, the carbon budget and the impacts of the burning of fossil fuels.”

“Make no mistake, the stakes here are high. The mining company tried to stop our clients from being a party to these proceedings. They spent a day trying to convince the court that the arguments about climate change were inappropriate. The court has disagreed with that proposition and now climate change will be given a full hearing as a matter which our client argues justifies the refusal of this mine.”

“Think about the diversity of objectors to this mine – farmers, the young, the old, conservationists, doctors. Every facet of the community is represented in opposition to this Project. Some are opposed because of noise impacts, others are worried about how the mine might tear at the fabric of their community. Others worry about their children and grandchildren and the kind of world they will live in if local projects which contribute to climate change continue to be approved.”

“This case may go down as a seminal moment in the transition away from the mining of coal. Simply, our clients argue that a new coal mine should not be approved in NSW. That argument is based on science, economics and – we argue - the proper application of the law.”

Elaine Johnson, EDO NSW Principal Solicitor said: “This landmark case is the first time an Australian court will hear evidence from one of the world’s leading climate scientists about the urgent need to halt construction of a new coal mine in order to stay within the global carbon budget and avoid dangerous climate change.”

“In 2018, we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change in Australia and around the world, fuelled largely by the burning of excessive amounts of coal and other fossil fuels.”

“Our state-based approvals for coal mines have allowed global emissions to continue to rise at a time when the science unequivocally says they must fall.”

“Our client, Groundswell Gloucester, says that in order to curb emissions and stay within the global carbon budget, undeveloped coal reserves must remain in the ground. The business as usual approach to coal mining in Australia won’t protect current and future generations from the impacts of dangerous climate change.”

“This case offers a unique opportunity by allowing evidence on climate science to be presented on the mine’s contribution to climate change and how this relates to the internationally agreed-upon goal of limiting global temperature rise to no more than two degrees Celsius to mitigate dangerous climate change.

Julie Lyford, Groundswell Gloucester said: “The Gloucester and Manning Valley communities are looking forward to a future where our environment is protected and our shared vision of a sustainable future is supported by governments.”

“The resilience and energy within rural towns are evident as we fight to protect our land, water and future in the face of climate change.”

Hearing schedule
13-14 August 2018: Opening submissions at the NSW Land and Environment Court, Macquarie Street, Sydney
15 August 2018: site visit (parties only)
16-17 August 2018: Hearings in Gloucester (community objectors)
20-24 & 27-31 August 2018: Submissions and expert witnesses at NSW Land and Environment Court, Macquarie Street, Sydney

Background
This is the first hearing of its kind since the historic Paris Agreement in which a superior jurisdiction Australian court will hear expert testimony about climate change, the carbon budget and the impacts of the burning of fossil fuels.

For years EDO NSW has supported the Gloucester community, providing legal and scientific advice. This contributed to a recommendation from the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) in 2016 to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) to refuse GRL’s greenfield mine application, known as the Rocky Hill Coal Project (the Project) and the associated Stratford modification.

In December 2017, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) refused consent to the Project and the modification, finding they were not in the public interest because of proximity to the town of Gloucester, significant visual impact and the area’s zoning under planning laws.

In deciding how the Project and modification would be assessed, the NSW Minister for Planning granted unusual merit appeal rights to GRL and Yancoal who are now joined together in aggressively challenging the refusal in the Land and Environment Court.

Both coal companies have recruited their own legal and scientific teams. However Groundswell Gloucester was not told about the merit appeal until February, two months after GRL filed the case.

EDO NSW case page: www.edonsw.org.au/groundswell

The parties

  1. GG will be raising climate change and social impacts as specific grounds as to why the Project should be refused by the Court. Groundswell Gloucester had to fight to be a party in the proceeding. This was the subject of a separate hearing. The judgement can be found here.
  2. The Minister of Planning is opposed to the mine and will be raising grounds related to visual impacts and land use planning which includes economic and social evidence.
  3. Gloucester Resources Ltd. More info here.
  4. Stratford Coal which is a part of Yancoal Australia Ltd. Yancoal is Australia’s largest coal producer.