The NSW Land and Environment Court’s decision to refuse the Rocky Hill coalmine near Gloucester on February 8 is ground breaking. For the first time in legal history, the impact of a new coalmine on climate change was a determining factor in refusing consent.
It is the result of years of work by the community in the Upper Hunter, as well as others campaigning for a safe climate.
Groundswell Gloucester chairperson Julie Lyford was ecstatic about the judgement, which had saved the community from a 250-metre-deep open cut coalmine less than 1 kilometre from family homes. She said the Court posed a foundational question for all future fossil fuel projects: “the wrong time” test.
Groundswell Gloucester also successfully fought off AGL’s bid to develop coal seam gas mines in the valley three years ago.
Lyford, a former Gloucester mayor, said there “had been so much angst” over the CSG and coal mines in the region. She said that licences for coal and gas “had been handed out like confetti” by the previous state Labor government and that the departments of planning, environment and resources have to stop promoting mining over other interests.
The Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO NSW) represented Groundswell Gloucester, which had secured approval last April to join the case. EDO NSW argued the mine was contrary to the public interest and principles of ecologically sustainable development because of its significant social and climate change impacts. Chief Justice Brian Preston agreed.
Preston stated: “The Project will be a material source of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and contribute to climate change. Approval of the Project will not assist in achieving the rapid and deep reductions in GHG emissions that are needed now in order to … achieve the generally agreed goal of limiting the increase in global average temperature to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels.”
The NSW Department of Planning had already rejected Gloucester Resources Limited’s development application in October 2017, citing the negative impact it would have on the nearby town and its people. Back then, its impact on climate change was not a consideration.