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Court battle looms over minister's approval of 'mega' coal mines


An environmental group has mounted a legal challenge to federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek after she did not accept calls to consider the impact of global warming when assessing three coalmine applications in NSW and Queensland.

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The Environment Council of Central Queensland has filed in the Federal Court seeking a judicial review of Plibersek’s decisions, claiming she has refused to accept the global warming risk associated with proposals.

The council claims that extending the Narrabri underground mine in northeastern NSW, the Mount Pleasant open-pit mine in the Hunter Valley, and the Ensham mine in Queensland’s central highlands would raise the risk for climate change for decades.

Environment Council president Christine Carlisle said Plibersek had neglected to properly assess the “mega mines” by allowing them to proceed through the planning approval process.

“The science is very clear: the burning of coal and gas is fuelling climate change, and this is causing vast and irreversible harm,” Carlisle said.

The Federal Court case could affect 18 coal and gas projects around Australia.

Carlisle said her small environmental group did not want to take Plibersek to court.

“We would much rather be doing things that we like to do … but we are driven by our love for our living wonders and the despair that we feel at seeing the drought, floods and bushfires that are decimating them,” she said.

A spokesperson for the environment minister said on Tuesday the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water had only just received documents from Environment Justice Australia.

“As this is a legal matter, we are unable to comment further,” the spokesperson said.

Plibersek has previously refused to halt the planning process for proposed coalmines because the Environment Council had not proven the emissions of a specific project would be a substantial cause of climate change effects on matters of national significance.

The Environment Council was represented in court by Environmental Justice Australia, which filed two applications to the court on Friday arguing the NSW mine expansions combined would produce 32 million tonnes of emissions a year.

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