We asked our team to pick some highlights from 2021 to share with our community…
Here are just a handful of highlights
We made the law work for communities and stopped destructive development
EJA represented a community coalition in a mammoth ten-week hearing earlier this year. We were combating an 11,000-page Environmental Effects Statement (EES) prepared by energy retailer AGL. They were proposing a gas terminal and regasification unit in a Ramsar-listed wetland at Westernport Bay.
An EES is a Victorian legislative requirement to assess and inform statutory decision-makers on whether some development projects, with potentially significant environmental impacts, should proceed. Historically it has proved a ‘toothless’ mechanism for halting inappropriate development.
Against all odds, our legal intervention was a success, and the Minister for Planning rejected the development. This was only the second time in 43 years that an EES process has halted a development in its tracks. AGL withdrew several approval applications shortly afterwards, confirming that the project was ‘dead in the water’.
Then, in East Gippsland in November, we won again. Representing Mine-Free Glenaladale, we raised community concerns and presented expert evidence to contest an EES prepared by Kalbar Operations Pty Ltd for the proposed Fingerboards Mineral Sands Mine. Our actions on behalf of our client resulted in the Minister once again deeming a development an unacceptable risk to the environment.
We launched a case against the EPA
In March, the Victorian EPA issued pollution licenses for three of the largest Australian coal-burning power stations in the Latrobe Valley, allowing them to continue releasing harmful and dangerous levels of pollution at the expense of the community.
In response, our client, Environment Victoria, is taking the EPA to court, and the owners of the three power stations.
This landmark case is going to Court in October 2022. It will be the first test of Victoria’s Climate Change Act (2017), and the first case to challenge the regulation of air pollution from Victoria’s coal-burning power stations.
We kept bulldozers out of old growth forests
We ran three forest cases this year, preventing VicForests from logging in 140 forest coupes across Victoria. The average coupe is 30 hectares translating to approximately 4,200 hectares of habitat protected from logging in 2021.
And while the possums case is now finished, it achieved so many wins along the way. Including some important legal precedents at both the state and federal level, not only for forests but other ecosystems across Australia. These precedents create opportunities for the community to use the law to engage more effectively with the regulator. The case also sparked other groups to take VicForests to court over their destructive logging practices.
We still have two ongoing forest cases, including the bushfires case on behalf of our client Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) that is due in court in March.
Our persistence paid off for rivers
We heard the Victorian government was preparing a new Sustainable Water Strategy (SWS) for southern Victoria with little community involvement. As the SWS sets the framework for water management for the next decade and beyond, we knew it was important to ensure that the community had a strong say in its development.
EJA saw an opportunity to help coordinate local environmental groups to influence this important policy-setting tool. Before the Strategy was quietly done and dusted, we ran consultations to build a coordinated community voice. Now the opportunity exists to achieve the strongest possible strategy to benefit the environment and communities.
We increased our capacity for First Nations justice support
We secured seed funding to build our capacity to support Traditional Owners fighting for Country. Recruitment is underway for two First Nations team members to lead this work. A Community Engagement Officer will start in early 2022, and we are currently advertising for a lawyer. If you know a First Nations lawyer who may be interested, please share the job description with them.
Our nature work is going national
We expanded our nature team and now have significantly increased capacity to leverage the law to protect at-risk ecosystems across Australia. In partnership with local communities, we will target five ecosystems with a legal strategy to bring them back from the brink of collapse. The program builds on our successful forest litigation work in Victoria. We will launch this project in early 2022 – stay tuned.
We wish you a safe and happy holiday season. We will see you back here in the new year as our team rolls up their sleeves for another big year.