Environment groups court test EPA and Valley coal companies

Environment Victoria is taking the Valley's three coal companies and the EPA to the Supreme Court to test the state's climate change laws. file photograph

Michelle Slater

Environment Victoria has launched landmark legal action against the Latrobe Valley’s three coal companies and the Victorian Environment Protection Authority for failing to limit pollution.

The environment group aims to test Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017 in the Supreme Court to challenge air pollution regulations in relation to the Valley’s coal-fired power stations.

Environment Victoria chief executive Jono La Nauze alleged the EPA was choosing to ignore Victoria’s climate change legislation when it issued its coal-fired power station licence reviews.

“We believe the EPA has failed to protect the health of the community and the environment so we’re putting the matter before a judge to decide,” Mr La Nauze said.

The EPA finalised its coal power station licence reviews in March after the process began in 2017, but environment groups claim the new licences failed to impose tighter emissions limits.

Environment Victoria’s court case is a judicial review challenging the legality of the decision and will include the power station owners Alinta, AGL and EnergyAustralia as defendants.

It argues the EPA failed to properly consider key sections of the Climate Change Act and the Environment Protection Act.

“The EPA took more than 1200 days to review the licences of three coal power stations and then failed to take any action on the greenhouse gases they emit,” Mr La Nauze said.

“But currently the EPA is letting these power stations emit toxic pollution at levels that wouldn’t be allowed in the United States, Europe or China.”

Mr La Nuaze said coal-fired power stations were responsible for 40 percent of Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions, also emitting sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, fine particles and mercury.

Environment Victoria is being represented by lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia, with barristers Ron Merkel QC, Matthew Albert and Rupert Watters taking on the case.

EJA principal lawyer Nick Witherow said “it was in the public interest” that the EPA was held accountable if the agency did not implement laws enacted to protect the air and climate.

“It’s vital that our laws are applied as intended – to protect community health and our environment and reflect developing community expectations,” Mr Witherow said.

Both the EPA and Loy Yang B operator Alinta would not comment on a matter before the courts.

A spokeswoman for Loy Yang A owner AGL also said the company was unable to comment, but stated as “Australia’s largest energy generator and greenhouse gas emitter”, the company acknowledged its “significant role in the energy transition”.

An EnergyAustralia spokesperson the Yallourn operator was “committed to being a leader in environmental stewardship and the responsible operation of our assets is paramount”.