The decision follows a Federal Court decision overturning Santos’ regulatory approval for drilling in the Barossa offshore oil field in the Northern Territory, which prompted warnings from the energy sector that higher legal hurdles for new resources projects could stymie investment.
EPA Victoria chief executive Lee Miezis said the regulator had “already taken steps to strengthen our processes and ensure climate change is demonstrably considered in all our regulatory decisions” since the disputed mine approvals.
“As an organisation, EPA is committed to raising the bar in environmental protection,” he said after the judgment. “Scrutiny from organisations like Environment Victoria can only make us better.”
But Environment Victoria chief executive Jono La Nauze said the case suggested the state’s climate change and pollution laws were not fit for purpose.
“If the Climate Change Act doesn’t require limits to pollution from coal power stations – the biggest single source of emissions in the state – then it’s not really doing what the community expects and needs to be fixed,” he said.
“Our laws must reflect the fact that climate change is already here and hurting communities, and if they’re failing to rein in emissions from the biggest polluters, that’s a serious flaw in their design.”
He said Victorian laws allowed power stations to release levels of pollution that would be illegal in the US and China.
Charley Brumby-Rendell, a senior lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia, added: “This case was the first test of Victoria’s new Climate Change Act, and the first time pollution from Victorian coal-fired power stations was challenged in court. If this decision stands then these laws are not up to scratch and must be fixed.”
Environmental Justice Australia ran the case for Environment Victoria and would review the decision and possible next steps, she said.
AGL has already expedited its closure of Loy Yang A, anticipating that it will shut down in 2035. Alinta is expected to close Loy Yang B in 2047 and EnergyAustralia says Yallourn will shut down in 2028.
The Australian Energy Council, the lobby group for power generators, welcomed the judgment, saying economy-wide policies were needed to drive reductions in emissions rather than relying on local environmental licences.
“Any additional licensing requirements would compromise the role existing plants can play in supporting a reliable and affordable energy transition for Victorians,” a spokesman said.
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