Challenging the federal government’s push for ARENA to fund fossil fuel technologies 

We all want to power our lives with renewables. To ramp up climate solutions fast, we need funding for innovative, green, renewable projects.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) was established in 2012 as a dedicated public renewable energy funder, but the Morrison government is constantly trying to radically reshape ARENA and use this power to fund fossil fuel technologies. 

The federal government has frequently sought to expand ARENA’s investment remit to fund non-renewable projects, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), blue hydrogen projects and ‘low-emission’ technologies. 

On their face, these technologies may seem to be beneficial for our environment, but they only serve to prop up the fossil fuel industry, potentially at the expense of the renewable projects ARENA currently supports.  

EJA lawyers have worked closely with partners to build clear explanations about how the changes were unacceptable.

Our team ensured the legal details were understandable, outlined why the Morrison government’s proposals were bad in law and bad for future generations.

In June 2021, Labor, the Greens and cross-bench senators blocked the Morrison government’s plans to invest taxpayer funds into fossil fuels and adjacent technologies.

In October 2021, the Morrison government again attempted to radically reshape Australia’s dedicated renewable energy funder and direct it to fund carbon capture and fossil fuel hydrogen technologies.    

Fact check

CCS prolongs fossil fuel dependency because it operates in conjunction with projects spouting dangerous polluting gasses, which minimises any effort to transition away from fossil fuels.  

And whilst hydrogen appears to be a renewable solution, blue hydrogen involves a process which relies on fossil fuels in its production and is reliant on unproven CCS technology to capture greenhouse gases. This is distinct from green hydrogen, which only uses renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or tidal power in its production. 

Legal advice sought by Environmental Justice Australia found the move was “at odds” with the purpose for which ARENA was established and “thus potentially beyond regulation-making power”. The advice by top barristers, including Fiona McLeod AO SC, advised that the Regulations were well open to legal challenge on multiple fronts. 

In March 2022, the federal government’s latest attempt to push ARENA to fund fossil fuel technologies for the second time in a year was defeated again.  

Not only did the advice sought by EJA state the regulations were well open to legal challenge, but the Liberal-led Senate Scrutiny Committee urged for the regulations to be abandoned, raising repeated concerns the regulations were unlawful and inappropriate. 

EJA’s legal work is part of what persuaded senators on both sides of politics to disallow the proposed regulatory changes. 

But, the Morrison government has tried to sneak in yet another set of similarly worrying amendments by burying an unannounced press release on their website. 

EJA and our allies will continue to work to protect ARENA from the government’s attempts to fund fossil fuel tech to ensure ARENA remains dedicated to renewables. 

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