A Queensland nature refuge organisation has launched a legal challenge against Clive Palmer’s proposed coal mine in the Galilee basin that is set to be a new test of the ability of environmental and planning laws to stop new coal projects.
The Galilee Coal project, proposed by Palmer’s Waratah Coal company, will face a challenge through the Queensland courts, from the Bimblebox Alliance, arguing that the Queensland Environmental Authority should block the project on the basis of the environmental damage the mine would cause.
The environmental group, which undertakes sustainable grazing on undeveloped lands and who will be represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, said that it was necessary to challenge the mine through the courts, as it did not trust the Queensland government to oppose the mine, in light of its approval of the Adani Carmichael coal mine.
“The Queensland Government will approve this coal mine if we don’t contest it. We have no choice. We have filed this objection to turf Waratah Coal out,” president of the Bimblebox Alliance Paola Cassoni said.
“Our work to develop Bimblebox as a conservation-based grazing property has turned to protecting it against Clive Palmer’s mine. We will fight to save this invaluable island of remnant woodland. We cannot stand by and allow the trashing of nature for coal.”
The 8,000 hectare Bimblebox Nature Reserve has been developed as a working example of sustainable agriculture in Australia, establishing a working farm that operates in harmony with the natural environment. Around half of the reserve would be cleared to make Clive Palmer’s coal mine, with the remaining half to be subject to underground mining operations.
“If the government approves Clive Palmer’s mine we will lose productive grazing land, hundreds of thousands of native animals, and a biodiversity safety net which helps the region bounce back from drought and fire,” Cassoni added.
Following the approval of Adani’s Carmichael mine, also in the Galilee basin, Clive Palmer flagged his intention to expand the proposed Galilee coal project, which would see the Galilee Coal project produce up to a third more coal than the Adani mine.
Palmer has a reputation for being litigious, and any successful challenges to the mine’s approvals would almost certainly be appealed. It raises the prospect that legal challenges to the Galilee Coal project may ultimately find their way into the High Court.
The Galilee coal project would produce up to 40 million tonnes of coal per annum for the 35-year life of the mine. The coal produced would be sold into the international export market, and shipped out of the same Abbott Point terminal as coal from the Adani mine.
Bimblebox was disappointed to learn that the status of their nature reserve could be revoked to make way for the mine, despite the reserve being established with the original intention of preserving the lands.
“In 2001 we signed legal contracts with both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments for protection ‘in perpetuity’ of the property, because of its acknowledged high biodiversity values. I was shocked to learn the government can just break this contract in favour of a coal mine.”
“If Waratah Coal succeeds, the Bimblebox Nature Refuge will be the first nature refuge in Queensland to be mined against the wishes of its owners. There is no need for this coal mine. The recent intense bushfires and ongoing drought should be a wake-up call that we cannot afford to dig and burn more coal.”
Bimblebox will be represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, with a challenge launched in the Queensland Land Court on the basis that the mine will cause irreversible damage to the environment and local agriculture activities.
“The decision to take a large mining company like Waratah Coal to court is never an easy one, but farmers and other people have a right to protect their soil, air and water. This coal mine would threaten all of that and leave a legacy of destruction for the community,” EDO Australia CEO David Morris said.
“Bimblebox is an exceptional example of how sustainable agriculture and conservation can co-exist.”
“They are helping preserve an important un-industrialised part of the Australian landscape, vital ecosystems and culture of the region for future generations. All that would be swept away if this short-sighted proposal ultimately proceeds.”
The case is set to be another test of Australia’s planning and environmental laws, following successful challenges to proposed coal mines in New South Wales on the basis of the mine’s contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions.
“On their behalf, we will argue the Environmental Authority application should be refused on 11 grounds – including that approval would cause environmental harm and would not be consistent with the core objectives of ecologically sustainable development,” Morris added.
“We will also argue that the Mining Lease application should be refused on 12 grounds, including that there will be significant adverse environmental, social and economic impacts caused by this project and its operations.”
In February, the NSW Land and Environment Court upheld a decision to refuse planning approval to the proposed Rocky Hill coal mine, in a decision that cited the mine’s contribution to global emissions.
The decision was cited in a subsequent decision of the NSW Independent Planning Commission to refuse planning approval to the Bylong coal mine, also in NSW.
Those two decisions attracted a swift response from the NSW government, which has proposed new legislation that will protect future coal mines proposals and prevent them from being blocked on the basis of the contribution the coal produced by a mine will make to global emissions.
Such legal challenges are also the focus of a review of federal environmental laws, with environment minister Sussan Ley flagging that a review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act will be used as a way to limit the ability environmental groups to run legal challenges to projects.