Time to protect the environment and communities from fossil fuel mining

Tue 24/04/2012

The Environment Defenders Office (Victoria) has today released a report which finds that coal and coal seam gas regulation in Victoria is broken, and needs to be reformed.

The report (which you can read in full here) finds that Victoria’s mining laws fail to protect or respect regional communities, fails to protect key natural resources (like groundwater and prime agricultural land), and treats the environment as an afterthought.

It calls for a raft of legislative changes, including the establishment of ‘no go’ zones closed to mining to protect sensitive areas, and a moratorium on new coal and unconventional gas projects until the laws have been fixed.

The report comes as the Victorian Parliament is due next week to debate a motion to impose a moratorium on new coal seam gas projects, and hand down a report on mining law reform.

It draws directly on our first-hand experience as lawyers, working with regional communities across Victoria who are deeply concerned about the impacts of mining (particularly for coal and coal seam gas) on their land and environment.

It reflects the disappointment that these people feel with Victoria’s mining laws — a regime that does not give them information about projects that may affect their health and livelihoods, and that does not give them a real say in whether or how mining goes ahead.

It condemns the privileged legal treatment that the mining industry receives, apparently based on the shaky assumption that mining is an inherently desirable activity, the public benefits of which always outweigh the costs.

That privileged treatment is in stark contrast to the equivalent rules for renewable energy.  The laws that apply to wind farms in Victoria, for example, are a lot more stringent than those that apply to coal mines.

Such treatment is hard to justify given the considerable risks that coal and coal seam gas mining in particular pose to water resources, the climate, food production, the health and safety of communities, and other parts of the economy like tourism and manufacturing.

Recognising these failings, the report calls for reform in four key areas: more protection for the environment, more sophisticated management of competing land uses, more rights and respect for regional communities, and a moratorium on new coal and coal seam gas.

Notably, the report calls for:

  • the environment to be considered from the outset of the approval process;
  • ‘clearly unacceptable’ projects to be rejected outright, at the exploration stage;
  • mining projects to face credible environment impact assessment and approval;
  • strategic land use planning to identify key natural assets and ecological processes;
  • the establishment of ‘no go’ zones closed to mining, to protect sensitive areas;
  • mining companies to notify communities of their licence applications in writing;
  • any person to have the right to appeal a licence decision on the merits;
  • any person to have the right to enforce a breach of the mining laws.

We are very happy to discuss the contents of our report further.

View report Reforming Mining Law in Victoria (PDF, 1.38MB)

Michael Power is a Law Reform Lawyer at the Environment Defenders Office (Victoria), a not-for-profit public interest environment law centre.  You can contact him at michael.power@edo.org.au or on (03) 8341 3100.