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Australian Youngsters Take Legal Action to Stop Coal Mine Expansion

In this Sept. 11, 2012, file photo, temporary accommodations are being built to house workers for a local coal mining boom in Narrabri, Australia, near Gunnedah, 450 kilometers northwest of Sydney.
Australian Youngsters Take Legal Action to Stop Coal Mine Expansion
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A group of young people in Australia has launched a lawsuit in the name of all children to block the expansion of a coal mine.

Worry over climate change is pushing the youngsters’ campaign. The class-action case argues that Australia’s Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, has a legal duty to protect young people and should reject the expansion proposal.

Whitehaven Coal owns the mine. It sits near the town of Gunnedah, 430 kilometers northwest of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales.

The plaintiffs are between the ages of 13 and 17. They argue that burning coal will worsen climate change and harm their future.

The case is not based on Australian environmental laws. Instead, it states that the government has a common law duty of care.

The high school students sought an injunction on September 8 in Australia’s Federal Court. An injunction is a court order to begin or stop an action. The case launched in the name of young people all over the world is the first of its kind in Australia.

The mine expansion was approved by an independent planning commission. It ruled the project was in the public interest. But the final decision must come from federal officials. The federal government has not commented on the lawsuit because the matter is currently before the courts.

Sixteen-year-old Laura Kirwan is one of the teenage plaintiffs. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that she was afraid about the future.

Kirwan said it is very troubling “to think about the future and not know whether we will have a safe time. I am involved in this case because climate change is really important and is only getting worse.” Kirwan wants the federal environment minister to know that “she should be protecting the younger generations.”

Whitehaven Coal has said the mine would bring social and economic value to the area, including up to 450 jobs and millions of dollars in direct financial investment. The company has not yet commented on the lawsuit.

Legal experts believe that, because of its complexity, the case will be hard for the students to win. If they do, it could affect other new coal mines in Australia. The country is one of the world’s major coal producers, selling mostly to India, China and Japan.

In 2019, Australian coal exports were worth about $50 billion. However, the Reserve Bank of Australia noted some unknowns about future coal exports. It pointed to a move toward clean energy worldwide and a slowdown in economic growth.

Australia depends on cheap supplies of coal within the country to produce much of its electricity. And, for the size of its population, the country puts out some of the world’s highest levels of greenhouse gases.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Phil Mercer wrote this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


Words in This Story

lawsuit – n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations

class-action – n. a lawsuit in which many people join together to sue because they all say they were harmed by the same person or group

plaintiff – n. a person who sues another person or accuses another person of a crime in a court of law

teenage – adj. between 13 and 19 years old

cheap – adj. not costing a lot of money

greenhouse gas – n. gases that cause the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere