In response to the Victorian Declared Mine Regulations 2022, which came into force on September 30, Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Chloe Badcock said:
“The Latrobe Valley community that has powered Victoria for decades must have a say as coal-fired power stations and mines are retired,”
“The Victorian government’s new regulations govern how coal mines in Victoria will be rehabilitated. These regulations show our government has taken some important steps to ensure the communities at the frontline are part of this process – but government and corporations have more to do.
“The government has improved the new regulations following significant community interest and criticism of the first draft.
“The improvements mean the community has more time to have a say on corporations’ rehabilitation plans. Importantly, it is now mandatory for coal mine operators to provide all public submissions they receive to government so it can properly consider community concerns when assessing their rehabilitation plans.
“The government has committed to creating guidelines that will set clear expectations for mining operators in drafting their rehabilitation plans. The devil will really be in the details, and we expect the community to play a large part in determining what those guidelines look like.
“Safely rehabilitating these toxic sites isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity to protect our communities and the environment.”
Friends of Latrobe Water spokesperson Tracey Anton said: “The Latrobe Valley community has made it clear; mine rehabilitation is a crucial issue, and we welcome the government’s decision to give the community a greater voice in this process. However, there’s more to the story,”
“The government regulations are light on detail, so establishing strong guidelines for coal operators is crucial. As a community living next door to flammable, toxic pits, we expect rehabilitation plans to be backed by independent evidence that shows operators are not prioritising their profits over our future.
“Resources Minister Jaala Pulford must ensure the community is properly involved in developing the guidelines. Our community deserves better than being locked out of the process, especially when there are serious health and environmental consequences at stake.”
Environment Victoria Policy and Advocacy Manager Bronya Lipski said: “These regulations are an important step forward for mine rehabilitation in the Latrobe Valley. The Latrobe Valley community deserves just as much certainty on what they’ll be left with when mines are closed as they do on new clean energy jobs when power stations close,”
“We hope the Resources Minister will recognise the importance of transparency to the Latrobe Valley community and release the annual progress reports and final approved version of the rehabilitation plans to the public as she receives them.”
The Declared Mine Regulations 2022 should be a key piece in the legal framework designed to address the disastrous failures exposed by the Hazelwood mine fire. In 2014, the Hazelwood mine fire burned for 45 days, blanketing the surrounding area in toxic smoke. It remains the worst air pollution disaster in Victoria’s history.
The 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry that followed concluded that both mine operator GDF Suez (as it then was) and multiple government agencies, including the Environment Protection Authority and Earth Resources Regulation (ERR), failed to appropriately oversee activities in the mine that contributed to the fire’s severity. In 2016 a subsequent inquiry into the fire found the ERR and the existing legislative framework weren’t getting positive outcomes for the community or the environment.
The draft regulations were open for public comment in August this year, with about 50 submissions received. The regulations were improved before finalisation in light of submissions made by community members, community groups and environmental organisations. The regulations came into force on Friday, September 30.