For more than 20 years, locals on the NSW Central Coast have been fighting a proposed coalmine in the Dooralong and Yarramalong valleys near Wyong.
The area is an important part of the drinking water catchment for more than 300,000 people, and the proposed Wallarah 2 longwall coalmine threatens to take millions of litres of water each year out of the catchment and pollute local waterways.
The mine also threatens the health of local residents and the rights of the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council, which has plans for residential development adjacent to the mine site and is staunchly opposed to the project.
The mine application was rejected on environmental grounds by the then Labor state government in 2010. During the 2011 election campaign, the Liberals promised to legislate to ban coalmining in Central Coast water catchment areas. Following the Coalition victory a new mining application was submitted but the promised opposition by the new government never eventuated.
When the mine was finally approved by the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) in January, Alan Hayes from the Australian Coal Alliance (ACA) argued that the mine owner cannot guarantee that the water supply would be protected.
"The major concern has always been the protection of the water ... where the mine will be is the most critical part of the water catchment where the water is collected," he said.
On April 16 the Environment Defenders Office, New South Wales (EDO NSW) filed an action on behalf of ACA in the NSW Land and Environment Court on April 16, challenging the validity of the PAC approval of the mine.
The case will be fought on 10 grounds, including greenhouse gas emissions, flooding impacts and compensation and risks to water supply. In an Australian first, the EDO will also present arguments asking the court to consider the Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) principle of intergenerational equity in the context of climate change.
EDO NSW CEO David Morris said: “The decision maker in this case was required by law to consider the public interest in approving the project. In 2018, we say that requires them to turn their mind to the impacts decisions of today will have on future generations and also to consider what we don’t yet know by applying the precautionary principle.
“Our client will argue that the PAC, when considering the Wallarah 2 project, considered neither and in doing so acted unlawfully, rendering the approval of this large coal project invalid.
“Wallarah 2 will make a substantial contribution to greenhouse gas emissions — 264+ million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the 28-year life of the mine. The PAC chose not to take into account emissions from the burning of coal mined at Wallarah 2.
“This type of legal action, aiming to ensure that our elected officials — and their delegates — follow the law, is at the very heart of our democracy. We’re arguing that the law in this case wasn’t followed with respect to climate change impacts and the ESD principle of intergenerational equity.
“This case is by its very nature climate change litigation — and we’re seeing more and more of that in Australia.
“The science is unequivocal; continuing to approve coalmines in NSW — absent some other major change — threatens the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change under the Paris Agreement.”
[Australian Coal Alliance has initiated a crowd funding appeal to assist with legal costs. You can donate here.]