By DARA BUTTERFIELD
The RSPB is today calling for the UK Government to use tax revenues from coal power stations to establish a Restoration Investment Fund to help local communities restore damage by open cast coal mining and to support sustainable jobs.
Today MPs are set to debate in Westminster how ‘orphaned’ open cast coal mines across the UK can be restored, where operators have not managed clean-up after operations have ceased.
This has proved to be a significant challenge in Scotland, where the collapse of the two largest open cast operators in 2013 exposed systemic failures to secure adequate restoration bonds, resulting in a network of unrestored voids and a funding shortfall of £200 million.
It also exposed serious failings in the practices and procedures of East Ayrshire Council planning department.
Some mines are within areas protected for wildlife and were consented under strict conditions that quality restoration would be delivered.
The RSPB is calling for a ‘Restoration Investment Fund’ to be set up using existing revenues from coal power stations, to support restoration at priority sites and to deliver sustainable benefits for the environment, communities and local jobs.
A different proposal has been put forward by the major UK open cast operator, Hargreaves, for tax breaks for new coaling at ‘orphaned’ sites. RSPB has raised concerns that attempting to fund restoration via new tax breaks is a risky approach.
The society said that tying restoration to new extraction would put pressure on local authorities to consent coaling in already sensitive, damaged areas, and could push the industry to progress economically marginal sites, risking further industry collapse. Low, declining coal prices mean that coaling has already ceased at most sites in Scotland.
Martin Harper, Conservation Director, RSPB, said: “Establishing a Restoration Investment Fund could create real benefits and opportunities for the environment, local communities and jobs. It is disappointing that any taxpayer funds need to be used to clean-up after the open cast industry, but action does need to be taken.
“However, this vital support must not just be a tax break that rewards the very industry that caused the problems in the first place, and encourages irresponsible coal extraction. The answer can’t be that we need to ‘just keep digging’.”
Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy, RSPB Scotland, said: “The consequences of the collapse of the open cast industry are still being felt by Scotland’s communities and wildlife, yet it seems we are not learning from our mistakes.
A sustainable response is needed that does not use taxpayer funds to perpetuate coal extraction without a ‘polluter pays’ accountability and creating real benefits for the environment, local communities and jobs.”