Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action (BSCA) has launched a legal challenge to the NSW Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) approval of the extension of Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri Mine extension.

Represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, BSCA argues that the IPC’s approval of the mine extension in April was unreasonable, irrational and illogical and not in the public interest because of the project’s impacts in driving further climate change-fuelled extreme weather events such as the Black Summer bushfires and Sydney’s current flooding events. 

The IPC’s April decision allows Whitehaven Coal to extend operations up to 10km south of its existing mine with a 500m-wide coal seam and extract an additional 82 million tonnes of coal to 2044.   

The project will generate at least 479.57 Mt CO2-e in emissions (roughly equal to Australia’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, which were 488 MtCO2-e) at a time when greenhouse gas emissions must be rapidly reduced to limit the devastating impacts of global warming. 

After successfully suing the NSW EPA last year to force it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, BSCA is taking action in the NSW land and Environment Court to have the IPC’s approval overturned. 

“Today, thousands of people across NSW are battling record floodwaters for the third time in only a few months. Homes, businesses, farms, infrastructure are being destroyed and lives are being lost and imperilled.

“As bushfire survivors we stand shoulder to shoulder with all climate survivors, determined to fight for safer communities. We know what it is to lose everything in a climate-fuelled event. We have felt the weight of lives turned upside down as we rebuild only to see the next disaster roll towards us,” stated spokesperson for Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action Fiona Lee, who lost her home in the Black Summer fires. 

The Bureau of Meteorology State of the Climate Report 2021 revealed the number of extreme fire danger days in Australia had increased tenfold since the 1960s, with 143 extreme fire danger days in the decade of the 2010s compared to 14 in the decade of the 1960s.

If Australia continues to emit climate damaging greenhouse gases, extreme weather events will only increase in number and severity. In this court action, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action will argue that in the face of indisputable evidence on the climate impacts, no reasonable person could conclude that this mine was in the public interest. 

Instead of approving new mines and expansions, Australia should be investing in clean, renewable energy sources that will provide jobs and reliable, cheap power. 

EDO Director of Legal Strategy Elaine Johnson said: 

“This case marks a line in the sand. The IPC has a duty to make legally reasonable and justifiable decisions. Our client says that it cannot be reasonable, rational, logical or in the public interest to approve a mine which will be a major new source of climate pollution in 2022.

“The IPC had before it indisputable scientific evidence on the impact emissions from this mine extension would have on our climate.  This mine produces not just thermal coal, but significant amounts of fugitive methane as well.

“Decision makers can no longer ignore the huge body of undisputed scientific evidence that says we must rapidly reduce emissions and leave coal and gas in the ground if we are to have a liveable planet.”