Landmark NT case challenges clearing approval on grounds of climate impacts

The Environmental Defenders Office NT (EDO) will represent the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) in ground-breaking litigation in the NT Supreme Court which questions the legal validity of the decision-making processes which saw the NT’s largest ever land clearing proposal approved without an environmental impact assessment.

The litigation, which was filed late last year, raises legal issues with the processes followed by both the NT Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the NT Pastoral Land Board (PLB). The challenges relate primarily to the way in which the EPA and PLB failed to take into account principles of ecologically sustainable development and climate change.

New EDO Principal Lawyer, Gillian Duggin stated, “The Maryfield litigation is a first. The EPA and PLB have never previously had their decision-making processes scrutinised by the Supreme Court. Considering the importance of the functions of those bodies and, in this case, the incredible scale of the proposed clearing, it is of substantial public interest for the court to explore the errors we say exist in their decision making processes”.

Land clearing projects in the NT have previously been required to undergo environmental assessment, but in this case the EPA determined that the Maryfield clearing did not require an EIA, despite this being the NT’s single largest land clearing application and the EPA’s positive finding that the clearing would make a significant contribution to the NT’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The absence of an NT Government climate change policy was cited by the EPA as the rationale for not assessing the emissions impacts of the proposal. “It’s obviously concerning that the NT Government has failed to put in place an emissions or climate change policy. In this case, however, it is the responsibility of the EPA to make its decisions according to the legislation that exists, notwithstanding the absence of a climate change policy. Our client will argue that hasn’t occurred in this instance”, said Ms Duggin.

The case is believed to be the first in the Northern Territory which is based on grounds relating to ecologically sustainable development and climate change. The matter is listed for case management in the NT Supreme Court.

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