Queensland’s Land Court has recommended the state government approve Xstrata Coal’s massive new thermal coal mine at Wandoan, in the Surat Basin, and deemed objections based on the mine’s likely contribution to climate change as “irrelevant”.
The Wandoan project, in planning for years and potentially the largest thermal coal mine in the southern hemisphere, was challenged by environment group Friends of the Earth (FoE) on the grounds that it would be responsible for 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime – equal to twice Australia’s annual emissions – and displace 11,000 hectares of agricultural land.
In a decision handed down this afternoon, Land Court president Carmel MacDonald recommended approval of the project, subject to groundwater monitoring and make-good obligations, and to excision of certain lands, but found that the concept of the environment in the state’s environment protection law was “limited to Queensland’s environment”.
“The reference in the ESD (environmentally sustainable development) principles to ‘the global dimensions of environmental impacts of actions and policies’ appears to allow the Court to take into account the global impacts of the project,” Justice MacDonald said.
“But whilst the FoE argue that limiting the consideration of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions to the extraction of the coal would be inconsistent with this principle of ESD, it is my view that the court can only be concerned with the global impacts of the “mining activities” which are the subject of the environmental authority application before the court – that is, the physical activities of winning and extracting the coal that may be authorised.
“Activities which may be carried on under the authority of a mining lease under … do not extend to the transportation and burning of the coal in power stations.
“Most of the evidence led by the FoE centred on GHG emissions from the use of the coal in power stations, ie, scope 3 emissions. In my view, this evidence is irrelevant to the court’s task.”
Justice MacDonald said the evidence established the project’s own emissions would contribute to climate change, and FoE argued this should outweigh all other factors to be taken into account in the assessment of the project and that this should lead to a recommendation that the environmental authority be refused.
“I do not accept this submission,” she said. “It also follows from what I have said above that I do not consider that the project is unsustainable within the meaning of section three of the EPA (Environment Protection Act).
“Stopping the project will not result in any, or any substantial, difference in the levels of GHGs in the atmosphere. If the project proceeds, the evidence indicates that it will have a comparatively minor adverse impact on the environment in terms of its GHG emissions.
“In the circumstances, I do not consider that the climate change issue outweighs all other issues so as to justify a recommendation under the EPA that the (application) be refused.”
The parties to the case were preparing statements at the time of writing.