EDO chief executive David Morris said the case, in the Land and Environment Court, would seek to force the EPA, which does not have a climate policy, to use its powers to keep communities safe from the increasingly severe impacts of a warming world.
Mr Morris said the EPA was chosen as a test case among similar agencies nationally in part because of a section of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.
That section requires the agency to “develop environmental quality objectives, guidelines and policies to ensure environment protection”.
“It’s an opportunity for the EPA to recognise they have a legal obligation to take action,” he said. “They should have a policy and a plan to address the greatest threat to the environment.”
An EPA spokesman said the agency had received court documents from the EDO “and is considering them”. A spokesman for NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said it was “inappropriate to comment” on an ongoing legal matter.
The Land and Environment Court has made significant climate-related decisions before, including in February last year when it found the final, so-called scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning coal should be taken into account when considering the environmental impacts of new mines.
Bushfire Survivors chairwoman Jo Dodds, who is also a Bega Shire councillor, said the group’s 30-odd members had endured fires from the 2003 blazes in Canberra, Black Saturday in Victoria in 2009 and the fires that devastated parts of her town in Tathra two years ago.
Cr Dodds said the legal action was aimed at making the EPA “live up to its remit”.
The agency “needs to have adequate policies around climate change”, including setting limits on greenhouse emissions and enforcing them, she said.
Cr Dodds said she had to evacuate to the Bega River in 2018 and watch on as aerial water bombers tried to save hers and other homes from being engulfed in flames.
That experience, and the past season’s endless fire threat, had left lingering emotional scars.
“I’m always looking at the environment and imagining what it will look like when it burns,” she said.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.