Solid Energy New Zealand mined the Mt Augustus ridgeline pursuant to a coal mining licence granted to its predecessor under the Coal Mines Act 1979. The appellant sought to prevent Solid Energy from continuing to mine the ridgeline of Mt Augustus in a manner which would endanger the Powelliphanta Augustus snails, some of which were threatened with extinction, and their habitat. The court had to decide whether the enforcement powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) were available against the holder of a coal mining licence.
The lower Environment Court had previously held that it had no jurisdiction to invoke the enforcement powers under the RMA against Solid Energy because the coal mining license had been granted to the predecessor under the Coal Mines Act 1979, and because of a transitional provision in the Crown Minerals Act 1991. In 1991 both the Crown Minerals Act 1991 and the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) came into force, with the result that an entirely new regime for mining minerals in New Zealand became effective. However, s107 of the Crown Minerals Act provided for “existing privileges to continue”. Coal mining licences were within the definition of “existing privileges”.
The court interpreted s107 Crown Minerals Act in the context of the Mining Act 1971, the Coal Mines Act 1979 and the RMA. In conclusion, it agreed with the Environment Court that it had no jurisdiction to grant the relief sought by the Appellant.