If successful, new coal and gas projects could face greater scrutiny over their impact on the environment.
Australia’s federal environment minister and coal mining companies face court this week over accusations they failed to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
It comes after Minister Tanya Plibersek refused to reconsider requests from the small volunteer group Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECCQ) to review two coal proposals, the Mount Pleasant Optimisation coal mine expansion and the Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension in NSW.
Lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) will represent the ECCQ in the Federal Court case against Ms. Plibersek in Melbourne.
Whitehaven Coal, developer of the Narrabri underground coal mine extension, and MACH Energy, of the Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project, will stand with Ms. Plibersek.
The two proceedings are the first court challenges an Australian environment minister has faced over climate change claims, and if successful, could mean new coal and gas projects in the pipeline will need to face scrutiny over whether they exacerbate climate change.
The ECCQ’s Arguments
ECCQ President Christine Carlisle said, “The minister’s decision to refuse to act on climate science is not only, we argue, legally wrong, but feels like a betrayal to the Australians who voted in favour of climate action.”
Ms. Carlisle said ECCQ “didn’t want it to come to this,” but “we’re relieved these climate cases are now before the court. We’re doing this because we’re so tired of the sound bites. So tired of photos of ministers posing with koalas, saying all the right things but failing to act.”
Meanwhile, EJA will argue that federal environmental laws require assessing climate impacts caused by fossil fuels.
They claim the new coal mine expansions pose a “severe and irreversible threat” to climate and thousands of threatened animals, plants, and places across Australia.
EJA Senior Lawyer Retta Berryman said fossil fuel companies and governments’ justification for approving coal mines is “legally flawed and dangerous” logic.
“Our client’s legal case is rooted in the principle that decisions should be based on science, facts, and sound reasoning,” she said.
ECCQ said the cases could change how future environment ministers assess climate risk noting the “climate harm of every new coal or gas mine can never be ignored again.”
The Epoch Times reached out to MACH Energy and Whitehaven Coal for comment.
Pilbersek: ‘There’s Still More To Do’
The World Heritage Committee (TWHC) recently confirmed the Great Barrier Reef would not be listed as “in danger,” according to a Sept. 13 decision.
Minister Pilbersek wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the federal government was “working closely with the Queensland government, investing over $1.2 billion and working to improve water quality.”
“I cancelled a coal mine because it could have affected the reef, and we (the government) have substantially invested in science to protect the reef better,” the minister said in reference to the May 2023 decision to reject two Queensland coal mines, the Macmines’ China Stone coal mine in the Galilee basin and Stanmore Resources’ Range Coal project 35 kilometres southeast of Wandoan.