Gloucester Resource Limited (GRL) proposed to establish an open cut coal mine near the town of Gloucester. Residents of Gloucester generally opposed the project, concerned about the mine’s amenity impacts, visual impacts, social impacts, and potential contribution to climate change. GRL unsuccessfully applied for approval, and appealed to the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, acting as a consent authority in this case. The court found the project should be refused, the direct and indirect impacts exceeding the benefits of the mine.
Key environmental legal questions:
- Will the project have negative amenity impacts: The project will cause noise, air, and light pollution that will contribute to adverse social impacts.
- Will the project have negative visual impacts: The project will have high visual impact over the life of the mine of about two decades and the impacts will continue even after mining and rehabilitation works have ceased.
- Will the project have negative social impacts: The project will have significant negative social impacts on people’s way of life; community; access to and use of infrastructure, services and facilities; culture; health and wellbeing; surroundings; and fears and aspirations. It will cause distributive inequity, both within the current generation and between current and future generations.
- Will the project contribute to climate change: The project will be a material source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to climate change. Approval of the project will not assist in achieving the rapid and deep reductions in GHG emissions that are needed now in order to balance emissions by sources with removals by sinks of GHGs in the second half of this century and achieve the generally agreed goal of limiting the increase in global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.
- What are the economic and public benefits of the project: Benefits include direct economic benefits (royalties, income tax) and indirect economic benefits (worker and supplier benefits). They must be weighed against indirect costs (environmental, social, and transportation costs; net public infrastructure costs and indirect costs to other industries), and complimented by a local effects analysis. The public benefits also need to be compared against existing, approved, and likely future uses of land in the vicinity of the project.
- Do the benefits outweigh the impacts: Balancing benefits and costs is a qualitative rather than quantitative exercise. Even where the net quantified benefit is positive, countervailing factors need to be considered, including (1) uncertainty as to the magnitude of economic benefits; (2) unquantified impacts; and (3) issues of distributive equity, including intra-generational equity. The proposed mine would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrong place because it will cause significant planning, amenity, visual, and social impacts. Wrong time because the GHG emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.