A small environment group is behind a novel legal bid to force the federal government to review almost every pending coal and gas project across Australia.
The Environment Council of Central Queensland has formally asked Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to reconsider the full scope of climate impacts the 19 projects are likely to have.
Lawyers for the group say a little used section of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act requires the minister to examine impacts on 2100 matters of national environmental significance.
They range from entire ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Tasmanian wilderness to individual species including the critically endangered Baw Baw frog and the blue-top sun-orchid, which is down to 130 plants.
Hollie Kerwin, from Environmental Justice Australia, believes it’s the first time the EPBCA’s reconsideration power has been used.
She says the council has given the minister a mountain of new evidence about how the fossil fuel projects will affect the environment.
“That’s 3000 documents, including comprehensive fire mapping of the 2019/20 bushfires on the habitats of almost all of these threatened species,” she says.
“It’s a body of the most up to date global scientific consensus about the reality of where we are at with climate change. None of this material was ever put before the previous ministers.
“The applications say that the only logical conclusion the minister can draw is that each of these new gas and coal projects will likely have a significant impact on these matters of national environmental significance.”
Ms Kerwin says the minister is legally obliged to examine the council’s reconsideration requests.
“It is possible that the minister might not vary those previous decisions but she needs to make that decision.”
If the council is not satisfied with the outcome, it could chose to challenge the outcome in the Federal Court.
Environment Council of Central Queensland president Christine Carlisle says former ministers have failed to fully account for impacts on 2121 species, places and ecological communities.
“This is about all of it. Koalas, turtles, the reef, Kakadu. Cultural heritage sites of deep significance for First Nations people. All the natural wonders we want our children and their children to know and love,” she says.
In a statement Ms Plibersek said: “I will be asking my department to carefully examine each to see if it meets the legislative requirements for a reconsideration request.”
The 19 projects include Whitehaven’s Narrabri coal mine extension, Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal Alpha North coal mine and Woodside’s north west shelf project extension.