Coal challenge goes to Supreme Court

Environmentalists are headed to the highest court in the land to challenge a ruling that carbon emissions from Kiwi coal burned overseas should be ignored when hearing mining consents.

The ruling is a side issue - albeit with significant implications - of the battle over the Escarpment Mine Project, a large opencast coalmine planned by the publicly-listed Bathurst Resources, owned by Australians. The mine was given resource consent by the West Coast Regional Council in August 2011, but that was appealed to the Environment Court by the West Coast Environment Network and the Royal Forest & Bird Society.

The Environment Court hearing is in progress in Greymouth this week and is due to finish next week.

The climate change argument was brought by the environment network, which believed the carbon emissions that would be released once the coal was burned by overseas buyers should be taken into account when deciding whether to permit the mine that digs it up.

Back in May the Environment Court ruled in a preliminary hearing that climate change should not be considered as it was a matter for central government.

A subsequent appeal to the High Court by the environment network was also dismissed.

That meant the environmental groups could not bring climate change evidence during the main hearing on the Escarpment mine.

The environmentalists had planned to take the climate change argument to the Court of Appeal - the usual next step - but all parties thought it best to take the appeal straight to the highest court.

The parties were appellant the Environment Network; and respondents Buller Coal, owned by Bathurst, Solid Energy, and Forest & Bird.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court gave leave to hear the appeal, noting that meant it would not have the benefit of all inferior courts' decisions, but that haste was needed for the good of the Environment Court proceedings.

"We have decided that the circumstances are exceptional and that the course proposed to us by all parties is justified."

The decision will also affect the proposed Mt William extension of the Stockton mine, which is owned by Solid Energy. That mine was given resource consent in August without hearing climate change evidence in line with existing decisions.

The Press