Past Court Cases · Healthy Communities

Win for farmers challenging New Acland Coal mine expansion

31 May, 2017

EDO Qld represented Oakey Coal Action Alliance Inc (OCAA), a community group with more than 60 farmers and residents, in objections to the approval of an environmental authority and two mining lease applications for the proposed Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland Coal Mine, west of Toowoomba.

New Acland Coal Pty Ltd v Ashman & Ors and Chief Executive, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (No. 4) [2017] QLC 24

On 31 May 2017, in an unprecedented and historic decision, the Queensland Land Court recommended outright rejection of the New Acland Coal (NAC) Stage 3 mine expansion, after the most intense factual scrutiny ever applied by the Land Court to a mining project.

 

The decision followed one of the largest environmental cases in Australian history* where approximately 40 community objectors (12 active in Court) challenged the expansion of the mine by submitting evidence on threats to water, air quality and farming businesses.

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Background

New Hope wants to expand its existing open-cut New Acland Coal mine in Queensland’s Darling Downs and operate for an additional 12 years to 2029 (Stage 3). Community group Oakey Coal Action Alliance has been acting alongside 30 community objectors in challenging the project.

The Land Court heard evidence that the existing mine has caused extensive hardship, damaged community members’ physical and mental health and livelihoods and eroded the once-thriving and cohesive rural community. Objectors fear any further expansion would be an unsustainable blow to the community and the region. Read about the farmers and residents impacted.

The case began on 7 March 2016 and is one of the largest environmental public interest cases of its kind in Australian history. It ran until 5 October 2016 and was re-opened at New Hope’s request in April this year to submit further groundwater evidence. Startling evidence from the case further highlights that Queenslanders have an enormous amount to lose from the contentious expansion, with risks to water, health and farming businesses. See the rolling feed from the 99-day hearing.

Disturbing evidence to emerge from the case included:

  • Faulty groundwater modelling: The case showed faulty and unreliable groundwater modelling, potentially placing farmers’ critical groundwater supplies at risk.
  • Noise and dust risks and complaints: Evidence showed there was a high risk of the project exceeding air quality limits unless so-far unproven controls were in place. The Court heard the community’s complaints about coal dust and noise levels and requests for data have fallen effectively on deaf ears for the past decade, including more than 100 complaints to New Hope and 30 to the state environment department.
  • Over-inflated job figures: The project’s original environmental impact statement stated the project would produce an average of 2,953 jobs per annum, yet in court this figure was reduced to 680 net jobs nationally.
  • Limited royalties to QLD government: In Court it was revealed an estimated $500M in royalties from the expansion would flow to the coal company and a small number of property owners, instead of to the Queensland Government which would receive just 7% of this, severely limiting financial benefits from royalties to taxpayers.

It is two decisions of the Queensland Government, not the Land Court, that will now determine whether Stage 3 goes ahead. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection makes the final decision on the environmental authority amendment application, and Mines Minister Lynham decides the mining lease application. Both must consider the Court’s recommendation when making their decisions. New Hope would also require an associated water licence under the Water Act 2000 for the expansion. The Federal Government gave federal environmental approval for the expansion in December 2016.

* The Land Court case involved approximately 40 community objectors (12 active in Court); 27 expert witnesses (eight of which were called by objectors); 38 lay witnesses; 14 active parties; 99 hearing days; two site inspections; 1,892 exhibits; and 7,452 pages of court transcripts – making it one of the largest environmental public interest cases in Australian history.

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