Injunction stops logging in five areas

In May 2018 EJA successfully gained a Federal Court injunction to prevent logging in five areas that are home to Greater Gliders in Victoria’s central highlands, while our Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum v VicForests case goes to trial.

“This injunction gives some certainty for the threatened species in these areas and for the many people who love Victoria’s unique native forests,” said EJA lawyer Danya Jacobs. “We’ll be hard at work over the coming months as this important case proceeds to trial.”

This case challenges whether logging in certain areas can continue to have a special exemption from Australia’s national threatened species law. In March the Court found the Regional Forest Agreement for the Central Highlands does exempt logging from the EPBC Act – despite non-compliance with the RFA’s requirement for five-year reviews – but importantly the Court found non-compliance with other terms in the RFA may remove that exemption. We allege certain terms are not being complied with, including that VicForests failed to identify and protect Leadbeater’s Possums, Greater Gliders and their habitat.

EPA flags stricter licences for NSW power stations following EJA’s expose

In April 2017 EJA revealed what a dog’s breakfast the pollution licences for NSW power stations are. Some power stations are licenced to emit five times the concentration of mercury and other toxic pollutants of other power stations. The Vales Point power station on the Central Coast is licenced to emit concentrations of fine particle pollution at twice the level permitted for the Eraring power station just 25 kilometres away. Vales Point’s mercury concentration limit is five times higher than Eraring’s! And all the power stations in NSW are licenced to pollute much more than power stations in the US, Europe and Japan. Those revelations – and a complaint by EJA to the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority – triggered an investigation by the EPA.

The EPA completed its review in May 2018 – and reached similar conclusions to us. The EPA report confirms the concerns raised in our complaint to the EPA and recommends sweeping changes to the Environment Protection Licences (EPLs) held by electricity generators. The report recommends stricter, more consistent licences for all five NSW power stations: Bayswater, Eraring, Mt Piper, Vales Point and Liddell. The EPA also proposes to standardise pollution licences so all five power stations have more consistent emission limits and obligations, as well as more consistent arrangements for monitoring and reporting air pollution.

A step forward on coal dust monitoring in the Namoi Valley

In February 2018, after a five-year battle that EJA’s Dr James Whelan has been closely involved with, the Namoi Valley community had a significant win. The NSW Government announcing that air quality around Gunnedah and Narrabri will be monitored by the same government-run system as the rest of the state. Previously, the dust pollution created by the towns’ nearby coal mines was monitored by the mining companies themselves, which showed a complete lack of transparency. The new monitoring network, run by the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage, provides a rolling 24-hour average of region’s air quality.

James Whelan was quoted in the Northern Daily Leader saying there was still more work to do, but the new system was a step in the right direction. “Polluters generally reduce toxic emissions because communities are informed and regulators act,” he said.

A law to protect the Yarra River

The passage of the Yarra River (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Protection Act through Victoria’s Parliament on 21 September 2017 was a happy day for the many people and groups, including EJA, who have advocated for better legal protection for Victoria’s most famous waterway. Environmental Justice Australia is proud to have been closely involved with the development of this important new law. This is the first time a Victorian river has had a single piece of legislation devoted to its protection. The Yarra River Protection Act sets up a long-term environmental framework for the protection and management of the river. The new law also establishes a Birrarung River Council to advise and advocate for river and its surrounds. The Yarra is Greater Melbourne’s most important green corridor, it is culturally significant and loved by people across the state. But for many decades the Yarra was seen as little more than a drain – its flows have been modified, its connections to wetlands disrupted, its governance fragmented. The Act establishes an integrated, landscape framework for governance of the Yarra, guided by environmental and social principles.

EJA worked closely with the Yarra Riverkeeper Association and many friends groups, environment groups, residents’ groups and organisations involved in managing particular places along the river – all of which have contributed to making this new law a reality. Open Re-imagining Birrarung: Six radical restoration ideas for the iconic Yarra River (PDF, 6MB)

Exposing the dirty truth about Australia’s coal-fired power stations

Following many months of exhaustive research, Freedom of Information searches, surveillance of Australia’s major power stations and advice from health experts and industry whistleblowers, in August 2017 we released Toxic and terminal: How the regulation of coal-fired power stations fails Australian communities. The report found coal-fired power stations emit more than 30 toxic substances and are Australia’s biggest source of fine particles (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). These substances cause and contribute to asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, respiratory disease, headaches and nausea in nearby communities.

In most cases emissions limits in Australia are much more lax than those in the US, EU and China. Mercury limits for some NSW power stations are 666 times higher than the US limits. Pollution reduction technologies that have been available for many years and are used overseas could significantly reduce power station emissions but are not in use in Australia. Find out more.

Climate change disclosure case against the Commonwealth Bank

In August 2017 we filed proceedings in the Federal Court on behalf of shareholders Guy and Kim Abrahams against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for failing to adequately disclose climate change risk in the bank’s 2016 annual report. The case is the first anywhere in the world by shareholders to test how banks should disclose information about climate change risks in their annual reports.

The claim alleges that by not disclosing the risks climate change poses to its business, the bank failed to give a true and fair view of its financial position and performance, as required by the Corporations Act. The shareholders also claim the 2016 directors’ report did not adequately inform investors of climate change risks. The claim seeks an injunction to stop the bank making the same omissions in future annual reports.

Protecting forests

In February 2017, VicForests began to log an area known as the Blue Vein coupe, just a few hundred metres from the famous 350-year-old Ada Tree. Local citizen scientists had found rare protected habitats for the Leadbeater’s Possum within the area. With the bulldozers already at work EJA immediately reported this to the Environment Department and VicForests, on behalf of four local community groups, and demanded that logging stop. The government called a temporary halt to logging operations and started an investigation, although part of the forest in the coupe had already been destroyed.

Local citizen scientists – who suspected there were threatened species in the area – then worked into the early hours of the morning and found a colony of Leadbeater’s Possums! Logging was halted, the colony of Leadbeater’s Possums was saved. The Environment Department investigation into illegal logging of rare protected habitat continues.

Protection for threatened species

We brought a test case on behalf of Environment East Gippsland, successfully forcing the government to prepare plans for the protection of Victorian threatened species.

“Our threatened wildlife should have action statements prepared for their protection and survival, but the Victorian government had not prepared these for almost 400 species,” said Jill Redwood, environmental activist and founder of Environment East Gippsland. “This situation had gone on for up to 20 years in some cases, with many listed species sliding further toward extinction. Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Felicity Millner represented us on behalf of four East Gippsland species  the glossy black cockatoo, the long-nosed potoroo, the large brown tree frog and the eastern she oak skink. The government settled rather than go to court, promising to produce the action statements as soon as possible.”

Protecting habitat for the Latham’s Snipe

Our representation of a community group in VCAT saved the home of a wading bird.

“For 14 years, we’ve been fighting to protect a local wetland area that forms important habitat for a shy migratory bird called the Latham’s  Snipe from a large housing development,” said Don Stewart, of the South Beach Wetlands and Landcare Group. “We had the important local knowledge about the area, but we needed legal representation and expertise to ensure we could put our case in the strongest possible way. Environmental Justice Australia provided that assistance, representing us before VCAT and arranging an ecologist and water engineer to prepare expert witness reports and give evidence at the hearing. The most recent hearing, in April, saw a partial victory, with the tribunal ordering a reduction in the number of lots to be developed and conditions such as a protective fence around the snipe habitat. The only home worth having on these parts of the site is the one that’s already there — the home of a wading bird. It’s a better outcome, and one that couldn’t have been achieved without representation and advice from Environmental Justice Australia.”

Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry

“When the Hazelwood Coal Mine caught fire in February 2014, clouds of toxic smoke were released over our town of Morwell, and the whole Latrobe Valley,” said Wendy Farmer, of community group Voices of the Valley. “Environmental Justice Australia helped to get a formal inquiry into the fire. Residents were sure there had been a spike in deaths – but we didn’t know how to make the government investigate this. EJA represented us, showing us how to get the Premier to take our concerns seriously, and get the inquiry re-opened to investigate them. The Inquiry then found that it was probable a spike in deaths had occurred due to the air pollution from the fire.”

Carmichael mine Land Court Case

With our representation, an Indian environment group was able to lodge an objection to the mine with the Land Court of Queensland,  explaining how coal pollutes the air, water and land of poor Indian communities.

“Indian coal giant Adani is planning to build what will be the southern hemisphere’s biggest coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin,” said Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai, India. “They say that shipping the coal to India will help alleviate poverty, but the truth is that India’s rural poor can’t afford the electricity that will be generated – all they’ll get will be damage to  their health and the air, water, land and natural resource base on which their survival depends. Environmental Justice Australia represented us before the Queensland Land Court in an objection to the mine. Without Environmental Justice Australia, we could never have had our concerns heard.”

Dual Gas Power station case

The VCAT case we brought with Environment Victoria and Locals Into Victoria’s Environment (LIVE) stopped a new coal-fired power station being built in the Latrobe Valley. The case itself was described as “once in a decade case” and resulted in findings that meant climate change must be considered when Victorian governments make decisions about large carbon polluting project proposals.