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Gloucester Resources lawsuit (re mine’s impact on climate change, Australia)

Case profile also available in: Español

In December 2017, Gloucester Resources filed an appeal against the New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission's decision to reject the company's Rocky Hill coal mine project in Australia. Local community joined the court proceedings arguing that the mine would have adverse social impacts. In February 2019, the New South Wales Land and Environment Court upheld the Commission's rejection of the project, ruling that the mine was not in the public interest due to its climate impact.

The Australian mining company, Gloucester Resources (GRL) planned to open a coal mine near Gloucester, Australia and lodged a development application for consent on 18 December 2012. The “Rocky Hill Coal Project” would produce 21 million tons of coal over up to 21 years.

On 14 December 2017, the New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission (Commission) rejected the proposal on the basis that the proposed open-cut mine will harm the quality of life of the residents and was not in the public interest. GRL was granted the right to challenge the project's refusal in court, which is unusual. On 19 December 2017, GRL filed an appeal. On 23 April 2018, the local community action group “Gloucester Groundswell” joined the court proceedings and both the Commission and Gloucester Groundswell raised that the “Rocky Hill” mine project is incompatible with the existing, approved and likely preferred uses of nearby land and has adverse social impacts on residents.

On 8 February 2019, the New South Wales Land and Environment Court upheld the government’s denial of the application. It ruled that the economic and public benefits of the mine were not shown to be greater than the public costs of the mine and it concluded that the Rocky Hill Coal Project is not in the public interest because “it is contrary to the principles of ecologically sustainable development because the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions of the mine will contribute to climate change.”.

This is the first case where the court highlights the climate impact of coal mining. Justice Preston noted the "significant adverse social impacts on the community" from the proposed mine. He also stated in his judgment that "the construction and operation of the mine, and the transportation and combustion of the coal from the mine, will result in the emission of greenhouse gases, which will contribute to climate change". GRL expressed disappointment at the court’ refusal of the mining application because “the Department of Planning, and the Planning Assessment Commission, both found the project met all non-­discretionary criteria, and on this basis GRL felt compelled to pursue the project,”, according to GRL Chief Operation Officer, Mr. Brian Clifford. GRL said it will assess the implications of the decision and consider its next steps.

Wrong Place Wrong Time: Key Implications of the Gloucester Coal Mine Decision, White & Case LLP, 20 Feb 2019

Commentary: Coal miners derided climate action 'sideshow'. Now it's the main event, David Morris & Brendan Dobbie, NSW Environmental Defenders Office, on Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 15 Feb 2019

Australian Judge Rejects Coal Mine on Climate Grounds, Karen Savage, Climate Liability News (US), 8 Feb 2019

Gloucester Resources Limited to review Rocky Hill Coal Mine refusal, Anna Keen, Manning River Times (Australia), 8 Feb 2019

We won': Landmark climate ruling as NSW court rejects coal mine, Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 8 Feb 2019

Land and Environment Court reserves its judgment in the Rocky Hill coal mine case, Matthew Kelly, the Herald (Australia), 6 Sep 2018

Court documents

[PDF] Gloucester Resources Limited v Minister for Planning [2019], Land and Environment Court, New South Wales (Australia), 8 Feb 2019

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