The Australian Minister for the Environment has a duty to take reasonable care, in the exercise of her powers to approve or reject a proposed coal mining project, to avoid causing personal injury or death to Australian children arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere.
The court found deficiencies in the Resource Management Plans at issue that must be remedied, including failure to consider the indirect effects of downstream combustion of resources extracted from the planning areas, failure to quantify properly the magnitude of methane pollution by arbitrarily using outdated science, and failure to consider any alternative with less coal available for leasing.
A U.S. court blocked the proposed expansion of an underground coal mine because the environmental assessment (EA) lacked sufficient analysis of the indirect and cumulative impacts of coal transportation and coal combustion. The EA also improperly emphasized the benefits of additional coal mining to the local economy while ignoring the costs of anticipated greenhouse gas emissions from burning the coal.
Environment minister improperly rejected advice from an expert committee recommending that large-scale coal mining proposal in a forest area not proceed. Although the committee’s advice is not binding on the Minister, it nevertheless cannot be ignored without credible scientific basis.
The district court determined it was unreasonable for agencies to quantify the benefits of lease modifications for coal mining and then explain that a similar analysis of the costs of GHG emissions and climate impacts was impossible when such an analysis was in fact possible due to the availability of the Social Cost of Carbon Protocol, even if the cost-benefit analysis was not required by law. Thus, the court set aside the government authorizations of the proposed expansion of coal mining operations and ordered the intervening mining companies to stop exploration activities.
Reviewing question of whether an EIA for a coal mine, should have considered the impact to the climate of burning the coal, the judge declared, “I consider there is a sufficiently proximate link between the mining of a very substantial reserve of thermal coal in NSW . . . and the emission of GHG which contribute to climate change/global warming . . . to require assessment of that GHG contribution of the coal when burnt in an environmental assessment….”
Environmental groups challenged an amendment to the provisions of a local planning scheme that was necessary for the expansion of the Hazelwood coal mine in southeastern Australia. The petitioners claimed that the environment effects statement (EES) should have included analysis of the impacts of carbon emissions when the coal is later burned. The terms of reference for the EES stated that “[t]he Panel is not to consider matters related to greenhouse gas emissions from the Hazelwood Power Station - these issues are being addressed through a separate process. ”
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal determined the Panel should have considered concerns about climate impacts from burning the coal after they were raised under the Planning and Environment Act 1987. The Tribunal found that the Panel must “provide a reasonable opportunity to be heard to any party who wishes to make a submission in relation to the environmental impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the Hazelwood Power Station; and [must] consider those impacts in making its recommendations and report to the planning authority. ” Id. at sec. 1.
Even though the Panel ultimately approved the amendment after considering the GHG emissions from both the mine itself and the later coal combustion, the case is still important for connecting the impacts of GHG emissions from burning coal to the activity of mining the coal.