Australia snubs court’s climate order to approve coal project

Site of the proposed Vickery coal mine. (Image courtesy of Whitehaven Coal).

Australia has approved a controversial coal expansion project, which had been subject to a court order demanding the government consider its impact on climate change.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley has given environmental consent for Whitehaven Coal Ltd. to proceed with a A$600 million ($440 million) plan to extend open cut mining at its Vickery operation in New South Wales, which will more than double annual extraction to 10 million tons. Approval is subject to conditions relating to the protection of water resources and native species.

Whitehaven shares rose as much as 5.3% in Sydney trading on Thursday.

A federal court ruled in July that the government must assess the potential harmful consequences on young people that would be caused by additional greenhouse gas emissions when deciding whether to approve the project. The case had been brought by campaigners comprising an elderly nun and a group of Greta Thunberg-inspired teenagers. A government appeal against the ruling will be heard on Oct. 18.

“In approving the mine, Minister Ley has turned her back on the Federal Court, the international scientific consensus on climate change, and the children and young people of Australia,” Izzy Raj-Seppings, one of the student campaigners, said in a statement. Lawyers for the group said they were considering Ley’s approval and potential further legal action.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under fire from climate groups for his ongoing support of the coal industry, which brought in around $40 billion in export revenue in fiscal 2021. He’s also been criticized by the U.S. and U.K. governments for failing to set a 2050 target to reach net zero emissions.

Whitehaven said in a statement that approval had come after “an exhaustive process of technical evaluation and stakeholder consultation at both the State and Federal levels spanning five years.” The project had received 560 public submissions, of which almost two-thirds were supportive, the company said.

(By James Thornhill)

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