After 22 hearing days, the community’s legal challenge to HRL’s proposed new brown coal plant concluded this week. This case was particularly important for being the first time that Victoria’s environmental laws (not just stated principles and broken election promises!) were applied to a major proposal that will emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, in the context of climate change.
It goes without saying that running a case against a government agency and a well-resourced company is a significant challenge. We submitted that Dual Gas did not provide enough information to show that their project was economically viable or that it would displace dirtier brown coal fire power stations. And, having watched the hearing and read the transcripts, we can tell you that there was evidence presented that the Dual Gas plant would not be economically feasible.
Doctors for the Environment argued a strong case centered on the air pollutants that HRL’s plant would generate. The Doctors presented evidence showing that cumulative emissions from coal power stations can have serious health impacts on members of the community.
In order to demonstrate the social and economic impacts that the HRL plant would have on all Victorians, Martin Shield (an individual objector) sought to demonstrate the many ways in which climate change impacts from the plant would affect him personally. Shield earned the respect of all parties for the intelligent, measured way in which he represented his case.
With Environment Victoria leading the case, and on behalf of LIVE, the Environment Defenders Office, along with a committed team of pro bono barristers, ran what I believe was the best case that could have been brought at this time.
Our case relied on evidence that the Environment Protection Authority has approved a permit for a project (300Mw) that is inconsistent with:
- the principles of the Environment Protection Act, with specific reference to the State Environment Protection Policy;
- the broader government policy framework (including the Climate Change Act 2011), the stated aim of which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
- the obligation under the law to demonstrate best practice in the management of emissions.
Our case raised the principle of intergenerational equity, the precautionary principle, and the principle of integration to highlight the need for social and environmental concerns now and in the future to be given equal attention in decision-making. We submitted that HRL is a private corporation seeking to profit from a project that could have enormous short and long term affects on Victorians, for decades to come. As we all know, according to mainstream science, the most costly affects of climate change (to human health and the environment) will ultimately be borne by the community.
We are not likely to hear the Tribunal’s final decision before the end of March at the earliest. In the meantime, the Federal government has extended HRL’s period to meet the conditions of its $100 million grant (to complement its $50 million from the State government) until 30 June 2012. You may have heard that, on the eve of the hearing’s conclusion, Michael Danby MP, the local member for Melbourne Ports where LIVE is based, addressed Parliament to defend the government’s decision to give HRL more time. (see our press release here).
Indeed it’s been an eye-opening, time warping adventure. On behalf of LIVE, an enormous thanks goes to our tireless friends at Environment Victoria, our wonderful legal team, the great Doctors for the Environment, and the amazing Martin Shield. Credit must also go to the three Tribunal members who patiently presided over this long and complicated case. Finally, we’ve also very much appreciated the encouraging well wishes from so many of you, stay tuned!
Fingers crossed everybody!
PS: For those of you who live in the City of Port Phillip, and particularly those who live in ELWOOD, and were affected by the floods a year ago, LIVE will be hosting an ELWOOD FLOODS FORUM on Monday 26 March. Preliminary details are here. . . http://www.live.org.au/elwood.