Green groups declared a major victory for the environment and the planning process today after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal agreed to force a review of the expansion of Australia’s most greenhouse polluting power station.
The decision affects the planning process for the expansion of Hazelwood power station, which would create an extra 85 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution, equivalent to putting 20 million cars on the road for a year, if approved.
Green groups appealed to VCAT arguing that Planning Minister Mary Delahunty wrongly advised the panel for the Hazelwood EES when she directed the panel not to consider greenhouse emissions from the expansion. The panel will now be forced to consider the effects of greenhouse pollution.
“This decision is a massive victory. It vindicates our deep concerns that we cannot afford to ignore damaging levels of greenhouse pollution. It is a win in the battle against global warming,” said Environment Victoria’s Executive Director Marcus Godinho.
“Victoria is one of the worst greenhouse polluters in the world and this decision by VCAT gives the environment a fighting chance,” he said.
Justice Stuart Morris in handing down his decision said: “The panel has failed to consider submissions to the effect that the continuation of the Hazelwood Power Station may have adverse environmental effects by reason of the generation of greenhouse gases,” he said.
“A planning scheme could contain a provision directed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases from a coal burning power station – not only to maintain an ecological process, but to balance present and future interests.”
Mr Godinho said the finding created a powerful precedent, by testing the adequacy of the panel process and the degree to which it is subject to political interference.
“This decision is a vindication of our concerns about the independence of the planning process,” said Mr Godinho.
“Justice Morris made it clear that the Planning Minister had no power to direct the panel.”
In his decision Justice Morris said: “There is no power for the Minister to issue terms of reference to a panel in relation to its duty to consider submissions about an amendment to a planning scheme.”
The panel’s failure to address greenhouse emissions defied the Bracks Government’s promise, outlined in the Victorian Greenhouse Strategy, that greenhouse impacts would be considered in EES processes.
The Hazelwood expansion will now go back to the EES panel before going to the State Government for a final decision.
Marcus Godinho encourages members of the community to take advantage of the ruling to express their concern about greenhouse emissions and the environmental impact of Hazelwood power station.
“In the interests of reducing this state’s greenhouse gas emissions the best decision the Government could take would be to refuse approval for any expansion of the mine.”
The green groups are led by Mark Dreyfus QC and the Environment Defenders Office and backed by Environment Victoria, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and Climate Action Network Australia.
Click here to download the VCAT Hearing Order