Lawyers and community groups say important new laws to compel mining companies to rehabilitate their toxic sites should be applied to every fossil fuel project in the state.
“Every corporation profiting from mining and drilling in Victorian communities has a responsibility to clean up their mess. It’s fantastic the state government has made moves to enshrine this in the law, but it must extend to every mine, quarry and offshore oil and gas project,” Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Chloe Badcock said.
“All too often, mine operators try to do as little as possible to clean up the mess they’ve made. But if drafted well, these laws can ensure they are held accountable.
“The trailing liability scheme will give the government power to direct companies to carry out rehabilitation, even where the company is no longer the current owner of the mine – protecting communities from band aid solutions, and ensuring mines are cleaned up to a higher standard”
“Without it, corporations’ legal obligations aren’t strong enough, and we risk those corporations benefitting at the expense of our environment and leaving communities and taxpayers to foot the bill.”
The Victorian government announced the trailing liabilities scheme last May but only for the Latrobe Valley’s three coal mines.
The law would allow the government to call back former owners of a site to complete rehabilitation. It would be backdated to apply to the owner of the mine on or after May 5, 2022.
Friends of Latrobe Water spokesperson Tracey Anton said: “This is a welcome and important opportunity to hold corporations accountable, here in the Latrobe Valley and across the state,”
“We’ve made clear this is a serious issue for the Latrobe Valley community. We want to ensure every mine operator has to stick around and properly clean up the mess they’ve made.”
“There is so much at stake. Toxic coal ash dumps hidden beside the Latrobe Valley’s power stations are contaminated with heavy metals like mercury and lead. If not cleaned up properly, they pose serious risks to the health of our community and environment, for generations.”
Alcoa’s mine in Anglesea is among the sites up for rehabilitation currently not covered by the proposed law.
“The Anglesea community need trailing liability measures as much as in the Latrobe Valley. There is no justice in restricting trailing liability to just three mines,” Friends of Anglesea River spokesperson Keith Shipton said.
“The Alcoa mine and power station at Anglesea operated for 46 years, using aquifer water to run the power station taking four billion litres per year. Friends of Anglesea River are convinced this has damaged the catchment and river system.
“Remediation is likely to cost the state government millions of dollars, at least, until the aquifer has time to recover. Yet Alcoa wants to continue to exploit the aquifer under the river’s catchment to fill its abandoned mine pit and call it remediation.
“Alcoa denies any responsibility for the river and has no plans to rehabilitate the river, so the cost transfers from a multinational miner to the taxpayer. Once those remediation plans are signed off, the horse has bolted.”
Public submissions for the trailing liabilities scheme closed on February 28.
If you have a media enquiry, please call or email Kathryn Lewis on (03) 8341 3110 or [email protected]