Past Court Cases · Energy & Climate

Alpha coal mine Court of Appeal challenge

27 September, 2016

EDO Qld represented Coast and Country, who appealed to the Queensland Court of Appeal, the highest Court in Queensland, in respect of the findings of the Supreme Court in relation to climate change concerning the Alpha coal mine. 

Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc v Smith & Ors [2016] QCA 242

On 7 April 2017 the High Court dismissed a key challenge to the consideration of climate change caused by coal mines under Queensland’s Environmental Protection Act on the basis that the application was not a suitable vehicle to consider the questions it raised. 

To our knowledge it was the first occasion where the High Court had considered a case involving climate change from a coal mine.

EDO Qld and its client, Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc, both expressed their disappointment in the result.

The decision is a milestone in over a decade of work by the EDO and conservation groups in Queensland to ensure the contribution that burning coal from mines makes to climate change, including damage to iconic Queensland ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef, is assessed to the extent required by law.

This loss occurred in the midst of a second year of extensive coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change. Reef expert Jon Brodie described this as the reef reaching "terminal stage".

While the outcome of this stage of the litigation was unsuccessful, the decisions in the earlier stages of this litigation have made significant steps forward for considering the impact of the burning of coal from Queensland coal mines. The litigation has established that these emissions must be addressed at least in considering the public interest under the Mineral Resources Act.

Other cases under separate laws, such as the case by ACF against Adani Mining Pty Ltd in which EDO Qld acts,are likely to continue to grapple with questions raised in this case involving the argument “if the coal doesn’t come from this mine it will come from somewhere else” and the consideration of climate change from burning the coal. Much will depend on the evidence presented in future cases.

The ongoing, dramatic decline of the Great Barrier Reef means that climate change issues are likely to arise in future environmental assessments.  EDO will continue to assist the community in understanding and accessing their legal rights to stand up for our shared environment with the support of members and donors.

High Court climate challenge

EDO Qld, on behalf of our client conservation organisation Coast and Country, sought special leave from the High Court of Australia to take climate change arguments to our country’s highest court. Unfortunately the application was unsuccessful. Thank you to all those who contributed: supporters, staff and barristers.

Background

The mine at the center of this case was the Alpha Coal Mine proposed by Hancock-GVK in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin. EDO Qld, on behalf of our client conservation organisation Coast and Country, filed an Application for Special Leave to Appeal to the High Court of Australia relating to the mine. The oral hearing was on 7 April 2017 in Brisbane.

This was a threshold application: the High Court was to decide whether or not the case passed the threshold for an appeal to be heard by the High Court.

The threshold question related to how the Queensland Land Court considered and gave no weight to the environmentally harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and combustion of coal removed from the Alpha coal mine.

This was the first time the Court of Appeal considered the powers of the Land Court under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) and the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) to give zero weight to the environmental harm and adverse environmental impact caused by transporting and burning the coal from the coal mine, due to Land Court findings of  harm and adverse environmental impact caused by other mining activities not being the Alpha coal mine.

For more information see the following education site: http://envlaw.com.au/alpha-coal-mine-case/

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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