Climate change ruling blocks Rocky Hill coalmine

A view of where the Rocky Hill mine would have been sited.

The community group Groundswell Gloucester in the Upper Hunter Valley scored another win on May 8 when Gloucester Resources Limited (GRL) announced it would not appeal against a Land and Environment Court decision to refuse consent for its Rocky Hill Coal Project.

Justice Brian Preston of the Land and Environment Court ruled on February 8 against approving a new open-cut coalmine just outside Gloucester.

It was the first time an Australian court had refused consent for a coal mine on the basis of its climate change impacts on communities and cultural heritage. This was a significant ruling, the reverberations of which continue to be felt across Australia and internationally.

Groundswell Gloucester, with the support of Lock the Gate Alliance and the Knitting Nannas Against Gas, had campaigned over many years against the mine. Before that, they had fought for years to stop AGL’s coal seam gas project.

The Environment Defenders Office NSW (EDO NSW), which represented the groups in court, welcomed the decision.

EDO spokesperson David Morris said: “The judgment is a game changer — both for what it says about climate change and also social and cultural heritage impacts.

“There’s no longer any doubt hanging over the legality of that decision. The focus must now shift to the Government’s response, which should be to codify the reasoning adopted by Chief Judge Preston, providing certainty to industry and other communities like the one in Gloucester.”

Julie Lyford, chairperson of Groundswell Gloucester, said the Gloucester community are “absolutely delighted” to now be able to “get on with their lives”.

“The decade-long fight to protect our homes, families and the beautiful Gloucester valley has been arduous and distressing”, she said, adding that the community can now make plans for sustainable industries.

Lyford said that since early 2016, after AGL was forced into backing down from its 330-well coal seam gas field, and the Rocky Hill Coal Mine refusal, house prices have risen and new industries are starting up.

She said that climate change demands that we “step away from fossil fuels, embrace renewables and work towards just transitions”.

The Rocky Hill judgment was never radical; it builds on existing case law around ecologically sustainable development and incorporates the science of the “carbon budget”.

Leading law firms have published their analysis of the judgment and agree it is a game changer which should require mining companies and decision-makers to carefully consider the effects of fossil fuel developments on global climate change.

Lock the Gate urged the NSW government to take the “historic opportunity” to reconsider two other proposed coalmines — United Wambo and Bylong — now under consideration by the Independent Planning Commission.

“The Bylong project has a lot in common with Rocky Hill because, as well as contributing to climate change, it would have unacceptable local impacts on agriculture, water and a beautiful valley rich in natural and cultural heritage,” said Lock the Gate spokeswoman Georgina Woods.

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