In January 2024 the Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek vetoed a wind terminal proposal at the Port of Hastings, citing “clearly unacceptable” risks to local flora and fauna. In our view, it was the right decision to make – and one that should be extended to stopping polluting fossil fuel projects.
All major projects need to be subject to rigorous environmental protection laws. This applies to polluting fossil fuel projects and renewable projects.
As Jane Carnegie from local group Save Westernport said, “The decision demonstrates the Federal Minister using her powers to protect highly significant ecosystems, like the Internationally recognised Ramsar Wetlands of WesternPort, from multiple threats… The dredging and construction required would have destroyed or degraded large parts of the wetlands.”
Our precious local ecosystems face threats on multiple fronts: inappropriate industrial development at the local scale, and the systems-level threat of more frequent and severe storms, heatwaves and fires, sea level rise and temperature changes posed by the continued burning of fossil fuels.
Right now we are in a critical phase in Victoria’s energy transition, and we need to get this right.
Given the reasons behind the veto decision, it seems unlikely that it will be possible to balance ecological protection with the needs of the offshore wind industry to use the Port of Hastings as the staging post for constructing the wind turbines.
The Victorian Government ought now to consider suitable alternative sites. Environmental groups including Environment Victoria will continue to apply consistently high expectations for nature protection to any new proposal, whether it’s for offshore wind or import gas terminals like the proposal from AGL we fought against (and won!) in 2021.
Of course, offshore wind and methane gas are not comparable when we’re talking about the climate.
Offshore wind is an essential part of Victoria’s energy transition: off Gippsland and Portland there are shallow areas with strong wind resources that can provide substantial, stable electricity to Victoria and beyond. Methane gas, on the other hand, is a climate disaster.
However, our environmental laws do not recognise this massive difference.
Australia’s main federal environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, fails to explicitly address climate change or greenhouse emissions. This is why we have the absurd situation where carbon bomb projects [like Santos’ Barossa gas project or Woodside’s disaster Scarborough gas project] are being waved through the approvals process as if their environmental impacts are acceptable.
The EPBC Act is currently being reformed, so right now the government has an opportunity to fix this and put a safe and liveable climate at the heart of our environmental laws.
The new EPBC Act needs to directly address climate change as one of the greatest threats our environment faces now, and actively work towards a safe climate.
Years of inaction on climate change have meant the renewable revolution we have been calling for is urgent and governments are now scrambling to catch up.
But that doesn’t mean we should lower the scrutiny these projects receive – this would only lead to bad outcomes for nature and erode public trust in the environmental assessment process.
What we need now is for federal and state governments to be working transparently and collaboratively to deliver the once-in-a-generation energy transition we need, especially for new industries such as offshore wind in Victoria.
Regional planning approaches should identify preferred sites for clean energy infrastructure, working in collaboration with local communities and avoiding areas of high conservation value.
Environmental assessments for projects that will accelerate Australia’s decarbonisation should be at the front of the queue because the very goals of the EPBC Act – protecting the environment and biodiversity – depend on rapidly cutting climate pollution.
Environmental organisations around Australia are currently pushing for these vital reforms and more that will allow renewables to grow while protecting natural ecosystems and the places we love.
Tending to the future – moving towards ways of living that nurture the things we value – is exactly what the community groups in our Action Network are good at doing.
Instead of having to fend off nature and climate-wrecking projects, let’s harness that energy at the community, state and federal levels towards building a clean energy system and helping nature and people to thrive.
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