The Land and Environment Court’s decision to stop the Rocky Hill coal mine on the basis that greenhouse gas emissions from the project would contribute to climate change would be “profoundly influential”, a lawyer who represented Gloucester residents believes.
Environmental Defenders Office lawyer David Morris said the historic judgement delivered in Sydney on Friday would have broader legal implications beyond the Gloucester project.
“This is a case specific judgement that relates to the Rocky Hill Project at Gloucester but the remarks the chief judge made in respect to climate change as well as its social impacts have much broader importance,” Mr Morris said.
“I would have thought any future decision maker on fossil fuel projects would bear his reasoning closely in mind in determining whether or not a new fossil fuel project should be approved.”
The mine’s proponent, Gloucester Resources, had sought to overturn a decision to reject the mine because of its impact on the Gloucester community and the surrounding environment.
The judgement followed last year’s two-week hearing, which was partly held in Gloucester to allow locals to give a first-hand account of how they would be affected by the mine.
Among those to give evidence to the court was international climate change expert Professor Will Steffen who said Australia would not be able to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement if the mine was approved.
In addition to noting the project would have significant adverse social impacts on the community, Justice Brian Preston also found the mine would directly contribute to climate change.
"The construction and operation of the mine, and the transportation and combustion of the coal from the mine, will result in the emission of greenhouse gases, which will contribute to climate change," Justice Preston said as part of a 200-page judgement.
“In short, an open cut coal mine in this part of the Gloucester valley would be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
When fully operational the Rocky Hill mine would have contributed 37.8 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions.
Justice Preston ruled that the impact of the mine’s emissions should not be considered in isolation.
"It matters not that the aggregate of the Project's greenhouse gas emissions may represent a small fraction of the global total", Justice Preston said.
"The global problem of climate change needs to be addressed by multiple local actions to mitigate emissions by sources and remove greenhouse gases by sinks.”
Groundswell Gloucester spokeswoman Julie Lyford was among more than a dozen Gloucester residents who travelled to Sydney for Friday’s judgement.
She said the group hoped a solar farm would be built on the proposed mine site.
Groundswell Gloucester has called for a Royal Commission into the treatment of mining-affected communities by the state government and its departments.
“It’s unacceptable; the revolving door of politicians and people in the mining industry who go back and forth is well documented,” she said.
“When people have trust in their government to protect them and look after their environment and when they lose faith in the people who are meant to serve them it’s massive.”
Comment has been sought from Gloucester Resources and the NSW Minerals Council.
Ms Lyford said battling AGL’s proposed coal seam gas mining project and later the Rocky Hill project had taken a massive toll on many within the community.
“We have had people who have been hospitalised because of what these industries have wanted to do their backyards. Young kids who go to school and they are really sad about mum and dad who are not coping,” she said.
Doctors for the Environment Australia chairman Dr John Van Der Kallen said the court ruling was an important win for community health.
“It has now been recognised by the court that climate change is real and impacts on human health. Any more fossil fuel developments will increase greenhouse gas emissions and worsen climate change,” he said.
“We are seeing the health impacts due to climate change every day. Hopefully, as a result of this decision, we can now get on and make massive cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions.”