Queensland’s highest court has rejected an appeal by conservation group, Coast and Country, challenging the approval of Gina Rinehart’s Alpha Coal Project in Central Queensland’.
The decision, handed down by Queensland’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday, is the latest in a string of regulatory and policy decisions made in favour of developing the Galilee Basin mega coal projects, among which the Alpha mine is expected to produce 30 million tonnes of coal a year.
The appeal, lodged by Coast and Country in October 2015 and heard in June 2016, argued a “specific legal case” about how the impacts in Queensland from the burning of coal from the mine should be assessed under Queensland law.
It followed up on a September 2015 Supreme Court decision that acknowledged emissions from the burning of coal were relevant in the assessment of coal mines in Queensland – a point that seems fairly obvious in light of the international effort Australia signed up to in Paris to limit global warming to 2°C at the uppermost.
“We opposed the approval of this mega-mine because it will contribute to dangerous global warming,” said Coast and Country’s Derec Davies. “The coal from the Alpha mine will exacerbate harm to our natural ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef, which earlier this year suffered an unprecedented and devastating coral die-back caused by global warming.”
The court’s three judges, however, found in favour of the mine developers, who argued – and were supported in their argument by the Queensland state government – that coal from other mines would replace the environmental damage of Alpha coal if it did not go ahead.
Jo-Anne Bragg, CEO of Environmental Defenders Office Queensland, who represented Coast and Country, said this was known as the ‘substitution argument’, and was used by coal mines to avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
“We said, as a matter of law, they are responsible for the consequences of their actions, regardless of what others may do,” Bragg said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We all know that burning fossil fuels is contributing to global warming, extreme weather events and severe damage to our Great Barrier Reef. Every further approval locks in those impacts.”
Bragg said that while they were disappointed in the decision, they planned to carefully read the judgement to examine the reasoning of the Court of Appeal.
“Today’s court decision fails to overcome the nonsensical claim made by the Queensland government and GVK Hancock that there will be no decrease in global carbon emissions if the Alpha coal mine does not proceed because another mine will be developed somewhere else in the world to fill its place,” said Davies.
“The Alpha coal mine proposes to pump a massive 60 million tonnes of carbon pollution into our atmosphere each year. The mine’s emissions exceed those of entire countries, including Finland, Norway and Ireland.
“Today’s decision spells trouble for the Great Barrier Reef. Coast and Country will carefully review the decision and consider our options regarding an appeal,” Davies said.