Press Release - June 23, 2023

Mega mining companies join Environment Minister Plibersek in landmark climate court cases

Australia’s Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will be joined by two coal mining companies in a Federal Court legal challenge over her climate change risk assessment of two mega mines in NSW.

Whitehaven, the proponent of the Narrabri underground coal mine extension, and MACH Energy, the proponent of the Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project, have been granted permission by the Court to join the Living Wonders cases.

The Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ), represented by Environmental Justice Australia, is seeking a judicial review of Minister Plibersek’s two decisions not to change previous risk assessments of the two mines, in response to arguments and evidence of the climate impacts of the Narrabri and Mount Pleasant coal mines.

The mining companies will join the proceedings, effectively defending the Minister’s decisions, as a respondent in the cases named Environment Council of Central Queensland Inc v Minister for the Environment and Water.

The two proceedings filed by ECoCeQ are the first court challenges to a coal or gas decision made by Australia’s current Environment Minister.

ECoCeQ is asking the Court to determine that the Environment Minister’s refusal to act on a large of volume of expert and scientific evidence of climate risk they submitted to the Minister when assessing the risk of two giant coal mines in NSW was illogical, irrational and unlawful.

Federal Court Justice McElwaine yesterday set the two cases down to be heard together. A five-day trial with provision for expert evidence will begin on Monday 18 September.

A five-day hearing for a judicial review is unusually long, with his Honour acknowledging the cases involve thousands of pieces of climate evidence.

President of the Environment Council of Central Queensland, Christine Carlisle said: 

“We’re a small environment group run by volunteers. We don’t want to stand up against the Minister or mining companies with deep pockets, but we are bringing these cases to the Court for the fate and future of thousands of threatened animals, unique plants and iconic places like the Great Barrier Reef.

We argue the Minister made key legal errors when she refused to accept the climate harm these projects are likely to cause, as demonstrated in thousands of scientific reports, including from the IPCC and her own department.

This is now a matter for the Court to decide, but we hope it will accept our arguments and that these Living Wonders court cases will set a clear precedent for how the climate risks of all future coal and gas projects are assessed.“

Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer, Retta Berryman said:

“Our client hopes these cases will make clear how Australia’s Environment Ministers now and into the future assess climate risk – so the climate harm of every new coal or gas mine can never be ignored again.“ 

The proposals:

Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension Project: Whitehaven plans to extend underground mining operations at the Narrabri thermal coal mine until 2044. Product coal from the Mine is exported to countries including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action also challenged the proposal in the NSW Land and Environment Court and are awaiting judgement.

Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project: MACH Energy plans to expand open cut thermal coal extraction at its Muswellbrook Mount Pleasant mine site until 2048, making it the largest open cut coal mine in NSW. The Mount Pleasant coal mine is backed by an offshore manufacturing billionaire, opposed by Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull, and will produce up to 21 million tonnes of coal each year.

The Denman, Aberdeen, Muswellbrook, Scone Healthy Environment Group Inc has also commenced proceedings against MACH and the Independent Planning Commission of NSW in the Land and Environment Court of NSW. The hearing is listed for 10 November 2023.

For media enquiries, please call or email Jem Wilson on (03) 8341 3110 or [email protected]