Political tension over mine rehabilitation

A political blame game has erupted over the state of Latrobe Valley’s unrehabilitated open cut mines, such as the area where fire took root in Hazelwood in February.

The finger pointing between State Government and the Labor opposition comes after moves to overhaul the bond system designed to ensure Valley mine’s are rehabilitated, a process in which spent brown coal batters are capped with dirt and clay.

Coming in response to recommendations by the Inquiry into Greenfields Mineral Exploration and Project Development in Victoria released almost two years ago, the overhaul is aimed at reforming a bond model criticised from both industry and environmental perspectives.

While initial stages of the overhaul will focus on improving measures, which limit the “capital borrowing capacity for mine operators”, the report’s medium and long term recommendations, such as end-of-mine-life environmental legacies, will be addressed at a later stage.

A spokesperson for energy and mining minister Russell Northe said a bond model looking at medium to longer term reform measures would be developed and funded under the $16.8 million ‘Strengthening Victoria’s Earth Resources Sector’ package.

However, opposition mining and energy spokesperson Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was not acting swiftly enough on recommendations it overhaul mine stability and rehabilitation.

Ms D’Ambrosio pointed a Technical Review Board annual report delivered to government in September 2012, which found Valley mine rehabilitation measures fell “well short” of what could reasonably be considered as “adequate for achieving long term safe and stable batters”.

With the TRB report released to the public last month, eight months after it was initially delivered to government, Ms D’Ambrosio said the State Government had serious questions to answer.

“The government has had three energy and resources ministers since this time. Nothing was done about the condition of the batter, which contributed to the complexity of the (Hazelwood) fire disaster,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“We knew they stuffed up during the fire, we know they stuffed up after it – now we know they stuffed up before it even started.”

However, Mr Northe’s spokesperson said mine stability was an important and complex matter and they were working with industry and experts to address this issue.

“The former Labor Government had no idea how to manage Victoria’s mining sector when it was in government and it clearly hasn’t learned any lessons in Opposition,” the spokesperson said.

“The former Labor Government had 11 years to address these issues and instead left the mining sector exposed and in need of major reform as earlier TRB annual reports will confirm.”

The slow pace of rehabilitation of Valley’s spent mine areas has been a point of fierce criticism since the Hazelwood mine fire.

In a submission to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, Environment Victoria was highly critical about the current rehabilitation bond system, amid reports Hazelwood owner GDF SUEZ had taken out a $15 million rehabilitation bond.

EV’s inquiry submission quoted estimates a comprehensive rehabilitation of the Hazelwood mine would cost as much as $500 million.

“There’s a real risk that with such an inadequate bond the company could just pull up stumps one day and walk away, leaving Victorian taxpayers to foot the bill for rehabilitation or be left with a hazardous site,” EV safe climate campaign manager Nicholas Aberle said.”

“The best way to prevent coal from catching fire is to ensure it is covered with earth and clay and revegetated.”