Western Australia sets the tone for Victoria

21 February 2011

You know how sometimes you can be surprised by your own surprise of something?

I saw last week that the Western Australian Environment Protection Authority has rejected a coal mine for a power station proposed for about 300 km north of Perth. The decision took me by surprise mainly because although the state-based EPAs have the power and authority – and of course every reason – to knock back dirty coal plants, their capacity to get rolled by the powers that be normally means they let the project go ahead, often with a long list of rather ineffectual environmental guidelines.

So bravo to the West Australian EPA for actually using your powers to prevent a dirty coal project from going ahead. You have also set a precedent for Victoria, where another proposal for a dirty coal plant is under review by the EPA.

The Victorian plant, proposed by the HRL group of companies, would be powered by gasified brown coal, reducing the plant’s emissions to the level of a standard black coal plant. This has led HRL to call it a “clean coal” power plant, implying that somehow the current crop of coal-fired power plants in New South Wales and Queensland are also clean.

HRL has an application in with the Victorian EPA for works approval, attracting nearly four thousand public submissions, 99% of which opposed the plant. If HRL is granted works approval, it will have all the necessary approvals to proceed – the only thing it needs to do after that is find some (read: hundreds of millions of dollars worth) private finance, as the only money available for this dirty coal plant is coming from Government grants, courtesy of the Victorian and Australian taxpayer.

The Victorian EPA knows it hasn’t been much cop when it comes to standing up to polluters and has promised to make changes to how it executes it’s powers. A decision on HRL is now due towards the end of March, so will be an early test of the EPA’s willingness to prevent environmentally harmful projects like coal-fired power plants. Will the Victorian EPA follow the lead of their Western Australian counterparts? Will they use the powers invested in them by the Victorian Government? Will they act on concerns raised by those thousands of Victorians who made submissions calling for the plant not to proceed? Will they reject HRL as a dirty coal fired power station with no place in the Australia’s future energy mix?