GLOUCESTER, despite its rural beauty, is not what one would generally consider the world stage. But the small town was thrust into the spotlight on Friday as a Sydney judge sealed the fate of the Rocky Hill coal mine, a decision lawyers believe could have profound influence.
Justice Brian Preston found the mine would directly contribute to climate change and have significant adverse social impacts on the hamlet at the foot of the Barrington Tops. “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,” Justice Preston said in his 200-page judgement.
Perhaps most importantly, the judgement argues the mine’s own specific emissions cannot be considered individually. “The global problem of climate change needs to be addressed by multiple local actions to mitigate emissions by sources and remove greenhouse gases by sinks.”
The community fight against the mine has been a long-running one. In 2015, state planners told Gloucester Resources the mine was not in the public interest. In this space in 2017, we argued that a Department of Planning recommendation for refusal “delivers everything they had hoped for after five years of fighting” weeks before the Planning Assessment Commission refused its progress.
That two years later residents were on the road to Sydney to potentially re-open the issue speaks to the lack of finality in planning around resources projects for those living literally in their proposed shadows.
Groundswell Gloucester’s Julie Lyford says the fight has unequivocally been one that has left the mine’s opponents battered and bruised.
“We have had people who have been hospitalised because of what these industries have wanted to do in thier backyards,” she said.
Greens MP David Shoebridge described the Rocky Hill plan as “one rare occasion where the Department of Planning, the Planning Assessment Commission and the Land and Environment Court have now all said that this coal mine is too environmentally damaging and should not proceed”.
Given that unanimous position, it is perhaps unfair that residents have faced the imposte of years with the project’s potential approval looming as a possibility.
Security of power supply remains a topic of national concern, particularly as Hunter coal-fired power stations approach the end of their planned lifespans. That makes it more telling that the mine’s economic impacts were judged insignificant compared to its contribution to climate change. But that matters little unless that hierarchy is maintained as a standard for planners, particularly when cases are less clear-cut than the recommendations on Rocky Hill seem to have ultimately made this one.