Bushfire affected residents have launched legal action against the state's environmental regulator in the hope it will force their hand on climate change policy.
Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, chaired by Bega Valley Shire councillor Jo Dodds, said the legal challenge against the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), launched by community legal centre the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), is a test case which she said could be heard as soon as May.
"The EPA has a moral obligation to keep us safe. If we win it will be huge, if we lose then the EPA has still been put on notice," Cr Dodds, who fled her home during the March 2018 Tathra fire, said.
"We know from the science, a reduction in greenhouse gases will make communities safer. Whether it succeeds or fails, something positive will come from this."
The NSW EPA confirmed on Monday it has received court documents from the EDO on behalf of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action Incorporated, and is currently "considering them".
CEO of the EDO David Morris said lawyers will argue the regulator is required to develop "policies for the control of greenhouse gases, consistent with the science of climate change, under its own legislation".
"Our clients have experienced the trauma of losing their communities, livelihoods and homes to bushfires. Climate change is driving more frequent, severe bushfires in Australia, putting communities in danger," he said.
"Our client will argue that the EPA has a duty to use its existing powers to ensure local protection for the NSW community by regulating greenhouse gas emissions to levels consistent with a safe climate and global warming of 1.5°C or below," he said.
Cr Dodds said the climate action group has members stretching from Tathra to Mallacoota, and said the group has been forced into taking legal action due to what they see as government inaction on mitigating the effects of climate change.
In the days after her home was threatened on three sides by fire in 2018, Cr Dodds publicly disagreed with then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's comments at an evacuation centre that the fire had nothing to do with climate change.
"As bushfire survivors we've experienced the devastating loss and trauma of catastrophic fires," she said.
"We want to ensure that other communities don't go through this, and we don't want to go through it ourselves again - and that means urgently tackling climate change.
We are already looking at fires so ferocious that evacuation is the only option.Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action chair and Bega Valley councillor Jo Dodds
"We need the EPA to step up and protect communities from worsening bushfires."
Cr Dodds also attended the recent Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements public meeting in Bega, and said resident's are still waiting on a coronial inquest into the Tathra fires in 2018.
"The commissioners were very generous with their time and sensitivity towards community members," she said.
"I expressed cynicism about the process of having a royal commission since it's more than a decade since Black Saturday and NSW has not to my knowledge taken up any of the recommendations from that. And, we still don't have the results of the Tathra fire coronial inquest," she said.
"But, no matter how thorough and genuine the royal commission is, if the recommendations are not acted upon, it all amounts to a hill of beans, and with the next fire season rapidly approaching communities need to know that we have leadership that recognises these risks and is prepared to protect us by taking urgent and meaningful action.
"And without addressing climate change there will be little we can do to prepare for the coming fire seasons with future fire conditions predicted to be increasingly difficult to manage. We are already looking at fires so ferocious that evacuation is the only option," she said.
Bega Valley mayor Kristy McBain said last week she wanted the royal commission to "to really get into the detail of what has happened in local communities".
"It is the people on the ground that have witnessed what has happened whose evidence, whose insight and whose real world experience will make the difference," she said.
I hope the recommendations of this royal commission are implemented to their fullest. We know that several royal commissions have taken place in previous years and sometimes those recommendations havent been put in place."
She said council's submission to the commission raised issues around the communication between the three levels of government and cross border communications.
The Federal Government should have been in a position to act more quickly I hope the royal commission can look at some of the pre-emptive tasks that can be put in place prior to a situation like the one we faced," she said.
Our telecommunications our electricity; all of those things should have been thought through prior to the bushfire season - knowing what was coming.
And land tenure and management through agencies like national parks, state forests and council is critical. All agencies need appropriate funding and staffing to be able to better manage the land they are responsible for," she said.