Minister agrees not to approve plans for 13 new coal or gas mines before Living Wonders High Court applications are determined

25 June 2024

The Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) has applied for special leave to the High Court of Australia to appeal the Full Federal Court’s dismissal of the landmark Living Wonders climate cases.

ECoCeQ argued in these cases that the Environment Minister is legally required to protect our environment from the climate harm of two huge coal mine expansions in NSW: the Narrabri Underground Extension Project and Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project.

With its applications to the High Court, ECoCeQ has argued that these cases raise legal questions of public importance.

While these applications for special leave to appeal are determined, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has given written assurance to ECoCeQ that she will not approve plans for 13 new coal and gas projects. This includes the proposed Narrabri and Mount Pleasant coal expansions that are the subject of the litigation.

If special leave is granted, ECoCeQ will ask the High Court to clarify the Environment Minister’s legal obligations when assessing these two huge coal mine expansions for their grave risk of climate harm.

Alongside ECoCeQ’s legal challenges relating to the Narrabri and Mount Pleasant coal proposals, there are 11 other new coal and gas projects subject to the Living Wonders legal intervention which are still before the Minister, awaiting her decision on ECoCeQ’s reconsideration requests.

Given the similar legal issues raised, the outcome of the Narrabri and Mount Pleasant court cases may be relevant to the Minister’s decisions on these 11 other proposals:

  • North West Shelf Extension – Woodside Energy – Pilbara, WA
  • Alpha North Coal Mine Project – Waratah Coal – Galilee Basin, western Qld
  • Gas Supply Security Project, Australia Pacific LNG – Surat and Bowen Basins, central and south-west Qld
  • Baralaba South Coal Project – Mount Ramsay Coal Company – Bowen Basin, central Qld
  • Moorlands open cut coal mining project – Cuesta Coal – Bowen Basin, central Qld
  • Saraji East coal mining project – BHP Billiton Mitsubishi BM Alliance – central Qld
  • Winchester South coal mine project – Whitehaven – central Qld
  • Lake Vermont Meadowbrook Coal Mine Project – Bowen Basin Coal – central Qld
  • Boggabri coal mine expansion – Idemitsu – northern NSW
  • Meandu Mine King 2 East Project – TEC Coal (Stanwell) – south east Qld
  • Caval Ridge Mine Horse Pit Extension – BHP Mitsubishi Alliance – Bowen Basin, central Qld

ECoCeQ has received written assurance from the Environment Minister that neither the Minister nor her delegate will make any decision to approve either Narrabri, Mount Pleasant or these other 11 pending coal and gas proposals currently before the Minister for reconsideration, until ECoCeQ’s applications for special leave in the High Court are determined.

Australia’s environment laws in the spotlight as High Court application lodged over new coal and gas

14 June 2024

A small community group from Central Queensland has applied to the High Court over the Environment Minister’s refusal to act on the climate impacts of plans for two large coal mine expansions.

The Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) has applied for special leave to Australia’s highest court to appeal the Full Federal Court’s dismissal of the landmark Living Wonders climate cases.

Represented by lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia, ECoCeQ argued in these cases that the Environment Minister is legally required to protect our environment – including koalas, the Alps and the Great Barrier Reef – from the climate harm of two huge coal mine expansions in NSW: the Narrabri Underground Extension Project and Mount Pleasant Optimisation Project.

Mining companies Narrabri Coal Operations (a subsidiary of Whitehaven Coal) and MACH Energy joined Minister Tanya Plibersek in Court, defending her refusal to act on the scientific evidence of climate risk.

Australia’s environment laws in the spotlight as High Court application lodged over new coal and gas

 

Christine Carlisle, Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) President said:

“We’re a small volunteer group. We don’t want to go to the High Court, but our climate is breaking down and we feel we have no choice.

“We’ve applied to the highest court in the land because there are currently 117 new coal and gas projects in the pipeline in Australia – and 35 new coal projects on the Environment Minister’s desk awaiting approval right now.

“MACH Energy wants to run the biggest coal mine in Australia until nearly 2050 at Mount Pleasant. Whitehaven wants to keep mining mind-boggling amounts of coal from Narrabri until 2044. These two coal mines will fuel billions of tonnes of climate emissions in coming years. We argue that damage needs to be carefully assessed under our environment laws.

“We’ve applied to the High Court because the Environment Minister could imminently greenlight these huge coal mines without properly assessing their climate risk to our environment.

“The outcome of this High Court application stands to impact all pending coal and gas projects currently awaiting approval on the Minister’s desk.”

 

Ellie Smith, Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ) volunteer said:

“The Environment Minister’s fundamental job is to protect our environment. We say it’s unlawful for her to ignore the climate risks that huge new coal mines pose to our environment.

“Instead of standing up to fossil fuel companies, Australia’s Environment Minister keeps standing with them in court, defending her refusal to act on the climate harm of new coal and gas mines.

“The Environment Minister says she accepts that coal and gas mines have profound and devastating effects on our climate and environment. But she’s refusing to act on that harm.

“The science is clear. We are in a climate crisis, and every new coal and gas project is pouring more fuel on the fire.

 

Environmental Justice Australia Co-CEO Elizabeth McKinnon said:

“ECoCeQ has applied to the High Court because they argue the Living Wonders climate cases present a question of law of significant public importance.

“If leave is granted, our client will ask the High Court to clarify the Australian Environment Minister’s legal obligations when assessing huge coal mines for their grave risk of climate harm.

“Australia’s High Court has never considered the scope or operation of Australia’s national environmental law, or the requirements around environmental risk assessments and the Minister’s power to approve or refuse proposed projects.