In the Hunter region of NSW the community continues to be exposed to pollution from coal fired power stations and coal mines. In the Upper Hunter there have been numerous air quality alerts which the government continues to ignore. Local GPs continue to be busy dealing with the health impacts such as exacerbations in asthma and sinusitis. Locals have their houses shaken by nearby mine blasts with the risk of exposure to blast fume. They have to make sure they hang their washing out on calm days or their clean clothes become covered by dust. But of course, none of this seems to matter when coal mining and “cheap” electricity is at stake!
The Rocky Hill court case got underway in Gloucester and then moved to the Land and Environment court in Sydney. This has been a very important case for the following reasons and DEA have been heavily involved.
The first day of the case heard a debate on whether “climate change” should be considered in the case at all! GRL (the proponent) argued that it was an “irrelevant distraction” and a “sideshow”. Fortunately climate change was accepted by the Court. This is an important development as it has previously been excluded from similar cases. Will Steffen subsequently presented as an expert witness. He said
“There is no way you will meet any of these targets if you continue to increase emissions and I think that's a clear and very robust outcome of applying a carbon budget approach to the Paris targets ... So step number 1, if you're really serious about the Paris targets, is no new fossil fuel developments. I mean, it doesn't take an Einstein to work that out--that you cannot reduce emissions by increasing them.”
Dr Garry Lyford spoke as a local GP and highlighted the health concerns. Steve Robinson and John Van der Kallen were due to present to the court but were subsequently not needed. Their submissions were given to the court regarding psychological impacts, blast fume impacts, rock fly, air quality and climate change impacts. Approximately 10 other locals spoke and most were against the mine including a primary school teacher and local business owners.
In Sydney days were allocated for the economic arguments (Tim Buckley spoke of the risk of stranded assets etc), social impacts; (Hedda Askland, anthropologist and expert on regional communities and displacement),climate change impacts and noise (acoustics expert Stephen Gauld)
Thanks must to the NSW EDO for organising such a brilliant case. More details can be found here.
Interestingly, the NSW state government also had to defend its decision not to approve the mine. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time the NSW government has had to do so.
In closing, Counsel Robert White for Groundswell Gloucester concluded:
“We say, your Honour, that the settled evidence before this Court is based on the scientific consensus that the urgent need is for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced rapidly around the world, and in this country, to the fullest extent possible if the world is to have any chance to meeting the well below 2 degrees Celsius target enshrined in Paris. We submit, your Honour, that GRL has been unable to prove through its evidence in this case that the approval of the mine will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, not increase them.”
The Court has reserved judgement. Judgement is not likely until next year.
In NSW the process for approval of new mines or mine extensions changed in 2018. The previous Planning Assessment Commission has been replaced with an Independent Planning Commission (IPC). It was not clear what the changes would mean. The new process also asked for submissions but not all objectors needed to be heard at a subsequent hearing. It is now clear that the process has hastened approvals and decreased the voice of the objectors. For instance:
“Mount Pleasant coal mine extension of mine life” submissions closed on June 29th. There was a public meeting on July 4th and the mine extension has been approved on August 24th
“Ashton Coal mIne south east open cut Mod 1” referral was received by the IPC on 2/7/18 and determination (approval) given 27/8/18.
Despite the changes there are ongoing submissions such as “Bayswater Power Station Turbine Efficiency Upgrade” and “Mount Owen continued operations modification” to allow another 35 million tonnes of coal to be mined. Feel free to do a submission by September 5th.