Bushfire survivors will take their fight against climate change to the courts today, arguing that approving new fossil fuel projects and expansions is unreasonable given what we know about the threat of climate change and climate impacts that we are already experiencing.

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action (BSCA) is appealing an Independent Planning Commission (IPC) decision to approve a Whitehaven application to expand its Narrabri coal mine in the NSW Land and Environment Court. 

The approval extends the life of the mine from 2031 to 2044 and allows some of the longest (10km) and widest (400m) underground longwalls in Australia. 

In approving the extension, the IPC agreed that the project is a “gassy mine” but relied upon the hope of future, uncertain technology to reduce methane levels. 

BSCA spokesperson Fiona Lee, who lost her home to a bushfire in 2019, said the IPC’s approval of the coal mine showed that planning decisions had not kept up with community expectations, and the need to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Continuing to allow coal mines to expand – especially highly polluting ones – has a direct impact on Australians’ safety and security,” Ms Lee said. “The burning of coal, gas and oil worsens the impacts of climate change, and we are already seeing bushfires and other extreme weather increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change.

“We know that the future of coal is limited. Now is the time to support our rural communities to transition away from coal and focus on building sustainable, prosperous alternatives. Approving new mines is adding to the problem and making the solution and emissions reduction targets even harder to achieve.”

BSCA will argue that it is legally unreasonable for the NSW government to approve this super polluting mine, and unreasonable to find that the mine is in the public interest.

“How can the continuation of jobs in a doomed sector and the private profits enjoyed by only a few outweigh the extreme costs of climate change to the lives of every person in NSW, now and in the future?” Ms Lee said.

“Bushfire survivors, including my family, know first-hand the impacts of climate change. We want to limit future impacts to our families and communities across the country, which is why we’re calling on the court to recognise that it’s not consistent with the law or in the public interest to allow mining companies to expand their operations in Australia.”

BSCA will be represented by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) in this case.

EDO Special Counsel Matt Floro said: “The IPC has a duty to make legally reasonable, rational planning decisions in the public interest. Our clients will argue the IPC’s approval of a major new source of climate pollution is legally unreasonable and irrational. 

“The climate crisis has already begun, and Australians everywhere are highly vulnerable to its impacts. There is a huge body of scientific evidence that we must leave coal and gas in the ground to maintain a liveable planet. Approving more coal mines flies in the face of all the evidence.”  

The hearing is scheduled to run from February 15-17. It will be streamed online here.

For more information or interviews: 

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action: Emily Watkins | 0420 622 408 | [email protected] or Jess Harwood | 0403 518 253

Environmental Defenders Office:  James Tremain | 0419 272 254

Legal background on the case is available here.

Images and video will be available for publication and/or broadcast by early afternoon on Wednesday, February 15, 2023.

Note to editors:

Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action (BSCA) is a non-partisan, community organisation made up of bushfire survivors, local councillors, firefighters and their families working together to call on our leaders to take action on climate change. BSCA formed shortly after the Tathra and District fire in March 2018, and its founding members were all impacted by bushfires, including the Black Summer bushfires in 2019-20, Blue Mountains in 2013, Black Saturday in 2009 and Canberra in 2003.