Lawyers leap on global warming

He points to other actions, including challenges to a windfarm in NSW and a Carlton United Beverages brewery in Sydney, as examples of the trend.

Climate change lawsuits not only cost time and money by pushing out deadlines, but were soon likely to extend to actions seeking costs due to personal injury or economic loss, Mr Taberner said.

Those risks could mount when firmer carbon emission caps were set by the federal Government, because firms would risk shareholder action if they failed to properly report on the gases they produce or the financial consequences of their carbon debt, he said.

Freehills isn’t the only high street law firm focusing on the issue.

Clayton Utz, Mallesons and others also have been bulking up their staffing on greenhouse advising.

"The legal firms would just love a massive stoush on climate change — they would be able to get a lot of income," Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke said.

He said a better approach than becoming legal "punching bags" would be for companies to minimise their emissions, engage with their local communities and fully comply with the law.

"I am highly sceptical of legal firms beating up the contingent liabilities of environmental externalities over and above the law," Mr Hooke said.

Centennial Coal, for one, wants its case resolved quickly, given the costs associated with delays.

"We have a state approval, we have a time frame in which we anticipate construction and production and we asked that (the case) be expedited on the basis there is a financial implication," said Katie Brassil, the company’s general manager of external affairs.

Xstrata communications manager James Rickards said the company had hoped to move ahead with its Newlands Wollombi No2 project in the second half of the year.

Because of this, he said, "we are very interested to see what this appeal has to say".

"While it has at times delayed the process, we still remain confident the last positive ruling will enable us to begin a ramping-up of operations," he said of the court case.

Queensland’s Land & Resources Tribunal had earlier dismissed an objection to the emissions-intensive project by the Queensland Conservation Council and recommended the mine be approved without any conditions regarding greenhouse gases.

That decision was appealed by the environment group, with a decision following Thursday’s hearing yet to be handed down.


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