The New South Wales Land and Environment Court decided Tuesday that Centennial Coal Company Ltd, developer of the Anvil Hill mine, failed to adequately account for the greenhouse gas emissions from burning the coal that the mine would produce if approved.
Justice Nicola Pain ruled that the New South Wales Department of Planning approval of the mine's environment assessment was void.
Justic Pain wrote that there is 'a sufficiently proximate link' between mining of coal and the emission of greenhouse gases, and that it should have been considered in evaluating the project. But she stopped short of ordering the impact statement be redone, saying only that the government must consider the impacts.
Centennial Coal is Australia's largest independent coal producer. It operates 11 mines in New South Wales, supplying power plants, industries, and export markets.
The case was brought by Peter Gray, a 26 year old student at the University of Newcastle, who sued Centennial Coal and the New South Wales Department of Planning.Gray successfully argued that any approval of the Anvil Hill coal mine should take into account the impact of climate change, even emissions created by burning the coal years later in foreign countries.
Gray was delighted with the ruling. 'It's a huge win for the people of New South Wales and for the people of the globe, really,' he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC.
'I mean, what we see now is that climate change is a real issue that the government will have to deal with. They can no longer stick their heads in the sand,' Gray said.
The government of Prime Minister John Howard has declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Climate Change Convention with its legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets. Concerned about the Australian economy, the government decided instead to adopt a voluntary approach to limiting emissions.
New South Wales Planning Minister Frank Sartor said the effect of Justice Pain's ruling could be painful for much of Australian industry. 'Don't underestimate how many industries could be touched by this,' Sartor told ABC. 'This could potentially have an impact on many, many industries.'
The New South Wales government is likely to appeal against the ruling.Centennial Coal executives were not deterred by the court's ruling. Managing Director Bob Cameron said Tuesday that any 'imperfection' that may have existed as a result of not undertaking an assessment of downstream greenhouse gas emissions has since been addressed.
'Centennial has, in response to public submissions, prepared a document that comprehensively deals with the downstream greenhouse gas impacts of the project,' Cameron said.
But Greenpeace energy campaigner Ben Pearson interprets the decision as a blockade on the road to new mine development. 'This is an historic ruling,' he said. 'If you factor in climate change impacts, new mines just cannot be allowed to go ahead.'
Greenpeace has been campaigning against approval of the Anvil Hill Mine. On Friday, 10 Greenpeacers entered Centennial Coal’s annual general meeting in Sydney to hang a banner reading 'Centennial Coal = Climate Change.' Nine activists were dragged from the room by plain clothes police while the other activist was arrested but released without charges.At the same time demonstrators gathered outside the hotel and hung a 'Save Anvil Hill' banner.
Outside the annual general meeting, Pearson said Australia's coal industry cannot be allowed to expand. “Coal causes climate change yet here is Centennial Coal meeting to discuss how they can produce even more coal. For the sake of the future, this meeting cannot go ahead.'
Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter, and black coal is Australia's largest export, worth around $A22.2 billion in calendar year 2005.
The proposed Anvil Hill mine is central to the expansion of the coal industry planned for the Hunter Valley.
Anvil Hill would produce 10.5 million metric tons of coal annually. Burning this coal would emit up to 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, more than the 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by the four million motor vehicles on New South Wales roads.
Pearson said, 'The court has recognized the link between coal and climate change and it’s time for government to do the same.'
Greenpeace and other environment groups are calling for an immediate moratorium on all new coal projects in New South Wales, starting with the rejection of Anvil Hill, and more renewable energy development.
The Greens, who hold four seats in the Australian Senate, want the court's decision enshrined in federal law. They will move an amendment in the Senate this week to change environment laws to reflect Justice Pain's ruling.
The Greens' climate change bill includes provisions to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and establish a Ministry for Climate Change and Energy. The bill sets emission targets for 2020 of 20 percent below 1990 levels, and for 2050 of 80 percent below 1990, including annual progress reporting and five year review periods.
But Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell says Justice Pain's decision was 'fatally flawed.'He says changes to federal laws will not solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
Preventing coal development is not the way to solve the global warming problem, says Campbell, who views carbon capture and sequestration as the solution.
'What we need to do as a world is to keep mining coal,' he told ABC. 'In fact, mine more coal for energy security, but invest in the technologies to ensure that when we burn that coal, we have the technology to capture the carbon and stop it going into the atmosphere.'
On November 23, Campbell announced that the Australian government will provide A$60 million to support the world’s largest carbon dioxide capture and storage project - the Gorgon gas project.
The Gorgon project proposal involves a huge liquefied natural gas plant and a domestic gas plant on Barrow Island, located off Australia's northwest coast. Host to Australia's largest operating onshore oil field for the past 40 years, Barrow Island is also a nature reserve.
The Greater Gorgon Area development is being pursued by an unincorporated joint venture of three international energy companies - Chevron, Shell, and ExxonMobil.
Campbell said, “This project, which will capture carbon dioxide from the Gorgon gas field and inject it deep underground, has the potential to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to three million tons each year.'
“Large scale commercial use of carbon capture and storage technologies offer Australia’s energy sector its single largest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases,' Campbell said. 'Scientific estimates suggest that up to 25 percent of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions could be stored in underground reservoirs each year.'Read the Anvil Hill Environmental Assessment online at: http://www.umwelt.com.au/anvil-hill/