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Wilderness Society takes WA EPA to Court

Updated:

The Wilderness Society will join with Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodian Richard Hunter in taking both the West Australian Environment Protection Authority and Environment Minister to the Supreme Court over gross mishandling of conflicts of interest in relation to assessment of the proposed Kimberley gas hub.

The Wilderness Society will join with Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodian, Richard Hunter, in taking both the West Australian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the state's Environment Minister to the Supreme Court over gross mishandling of conflicts of interest in relation to assessment of the proposed Kimberley gas hub.

This enormous project, covering an area 20 times the size of the Melbourne CBD, is a proposal of the West Australian Department of State Development and is being assessed by another government agency, the EPA. The West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, is the Minister for State Development, and thus the proponent.

As evidenced by a long list of blunders, the government has repeatedly failed to display any sense of procedural competence or scientific rigour in relation to environmental and cultural assessments of this highly contested project. One of it's most spectacular failings has been its improper handling of conflicts of interest declared by four of its five board members (dating back to 2009) revealed in mid 2012.

The backstory

On July 16 of this year, the West Australian EPA released its Report and Recommendations on the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) hub at James Price Point. The Report recommended approval of the gas hub with some conditions. But the Report was finalised and released by just one of the five EPA Board members – the Chair. The remaining four were forced to stand aside due to conflicts of interest.

The 'one-man decision' was highly controversial and led to a record number of public appeals. A subsequent attempt by the EPA to quietly approve the first LNG processing facility at James Price Point as a 'derived proposal' (meaning it would require no futher assessment) also triggered public outcry and saw approximately 1800 public submissions lodged in less than a week.

On the release of the Report, the Chair of the EPA stated that the assessment had been "the largest and most multi-faceted conducted in the EPA's 40-year history.” Yet apparently it was acceptable for one person to make this monumental decision.

In what appears to have been a fortuitous coincidence, the West Australian Government actually changed the law in 2011 to allow for only one member of the EPA to make decisions. However, under the relevant legislation (the Environment Protection Act 1986) the way in which the conflicts of interest were dealt with appears to have been unlawful. This is at the heart of the case we’ll be bringing before the Court in 2013.

We'll need your help

It's our hope that this case will make a significant contribution to the ongoing community campaign against the gas hub at James Price Point. If successful, it could mean that the West Australian Government will have to begin its environmental assessments again from scratch.

But we can't do it alone. In the new year, we'll be calling on our members and supporters to help us raise $300,000 to cover legal costs.

Only people power can hold this rotten alliance of government and big business to account and protect the Kimberley’s amazing environment and culture.

What does our recent campaign win mean for the case?

The Wilderness Society was excited and relieved by Woodside’s decision on the 12th April 2013 to pull out of the destructive gas hub project planned for James Price Point in the Kimberley. However our historic court case is primarily against the Western Australian Environment Minister and state's Environmental Protection Authority (the case is about the assessment of the precinct, rather than Woodside's project in particular). We’ve sought legal advice about the implications of Woodside's announcement and we still believe it’s vitally important to pursue our case in the Supreme Court. We must continue with our court case to seek answers on why a compromised Environment Protection Authority was allowed to recommend approval for this project in the first place when there were so many flaws in the environmental and social impact assessments.

Update - we won!

On 19 August 2013, the Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled that the EPA acted unlawfully in its approval of the gas hub at James Price Point. Read a comprehensive report here.

Donate:

If you haven't yet made a donation to help protect the Kimberley, please give generously at this crucial time.

Learn more:

Majority of EPA board barred from making decision on Browse LNG project
(25 June, ABC Rural)
James Price Point decision in the hands of one man
(26 June, 2012, Sydney Morning Herald)
Wilderness Society appeal on EPA Report 1444