Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc. v. Smith
Side A: Coast and Country Association of Queensland (Ngo)
Side B: Smith (Government)
Determine scope of environmental impacts to be considered on review of proposed coal mining operation
New coal mines in Queensland, Australia may only receive permits after completion of a review pursuant to the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) and of an environmental impact assessment (EIS) pursuant to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld). By refusing to review the Queensland Supreme Court's decision in Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc v. Smith, the High Court of Australia effectively resolved a question about this review process, namely how to interpret the emissions of coal burned by the end-user of Australian coal. Environmentalists have long argued that even though coal emissions are remote from the mine, they should be considered in EIAs because they are a foreseeable result of mining and would not necessarily occur if the coal were not dug out of an Australian mine. The opposing view holds that coal combustion is physically remote from mining operations, that demand rather than supply drives the market for coal (meaning that mining more Australian coal does not necessarily cause more emissions globally), and that the Environmental Protection Act therefore does not require consideration of coal combustion emissions in EIAs for mines. The Coast and Country decision adopts the latter view. The High Court has not, by refusing to review the Supreme Court of Queensland's decision, endorsed that court's reasoning, but it has indicated that it will not take up cases challenging the conclusion in Coast and Country regarding the proper scope of a mine's EIA. Legally, the basis for that conclusion relates to lower courts' responsibility for determining factual questions, such as the scope of coal mining operations and the nature of the market for coal. Practically, that conclusion means that environmentalists cannot expect to persuade Queensland courts that the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) requires consideration of whether a new coal mine will increase global greenhouse gas emissions.