The report Preventing the Preventable finds that accelerating rehabilitation works at coal mines in the Latrobe Valley will create hundreds of jobs, improve public health and safety and avoid serious financial exposure for the state government. The report outlines possible policy mechanisms for accelerating rehabilitation.
“Our analysis shows that rehabilitating the three mines, in a medium scenario, could create around 450 jobs per year for 20 years, with a flow-on economic benefit of $1.2 billion,” said report author Dr Nicholas Aberle, Safe Climate Campaign Manager for Environment Victoria.
“The 2014 Hazelwood mine fire was one of the worst environmental and public health disasters in Victoria’s history but was entirely preventable according to the Mine Fire Inquiry.
“Rehabilitation of old exposed coal faces could have prevented the terrible health effects suffered by the Latrobe Valley community. The only section of the northern batters of Hazelwood that didn’t burn was the area that had been previously rehabilitated.
“Mine rehabilitation is a labour-intensive process, meaning there is great potential for a wide range of skilled and unskilled long-term jobs to be created. Full rehabilitation of the open cut mine faces in the Latrobe Valley could provide decades of employment for hundreds of workers.
“The mine operators are currently legally obliged to fund the full cost of rehabilitation under the mining act and mining license conditions.
“However, with existing rehabilitation bonds at just $15 million (compared to GDF Suez’s estimate of $81 million in costs), there’s not much incentive for mine operators to fulfill their obligations, leaving the state government exposed to significant financial risk if they’re left to bear the cost of making the sites safe.
“To encourage the acceleration of rehabilitation, the Government should ensure that rehabilitation bonds are equivalent to the actual cost of rehabilitation. If the Government holds this money as a cash bond, they can use the interest to fund economic diversification programs in the Latrobe Valley.”
Another policy approach includes increasing the rate of coal royalties and diverting the additional funds to a rehabilitation fund for each mine.
“Victorian coal mines pay very low royalty rates compared to NSW and Queensland. Increasing that rate would force extra funds to be put aside for rehabilitation works, with that money able to be recouped by the mine operators if works are carried out.”
Environment Victoria is calling on all political parties to announce a clear mine rehabilitation policy before the election.
“There is significant community support in Morwell for mine rehabilitation. The local community, as well as Victorians generally, deserve to know where the parties stand before Election Day,” said Dr. Aberle.