When coal mines close, all too often mine operators want to be able to get away with doing as little as possible to clean up the mess they’ve made.
Right now, we have an opportunity to stop that.
The Victorian government is deciding what rules coal mine operators will have to follow to clean up closed mine sites. Until 17 August, you can give them your feedback on their plans so far.
Closed coal mines can leave behind a huge mess of coal ash and toxic waste that can cause serious harm to local communities and ecosystems.
We’re deeply concerned that the Government’s proposed regulations are nowhere near where they need to be to protect the health of local communities and the environment. They allow mine operators themselves to set the standards, and don’t require mine rehab plans to be evidence-based nor transparent.
Communities in the Latrobe Valley have powered our homes, offices, and schools across Victoria for decades. These communities deserve to know that they won’t be stuck with toxic leftovers – that mine operators will be held responsible for cleaning up their mess.
If we all make hundreds of submissions calling for better, stronger regulations that put the wellbeing of our communities and our environment first, then our elected representatives will be under huge pressure to ensure these regulations truly hold mining operators to account.
Will you make a submission? Below is our easy-to-follow guide to give you all the background information and help you write your submission.
How to write your submission:
What should I include in my submission?
Start with why this issue is important to you. For example, are you a Latrobe Valley local? Do you care about our precious Gippsland Lakes? Do you want to see make sure giant corporations clean up after themselves? Do you want to see the Latrobe Valley lead the way with best practice rehabilitation?
Find more helpful tips to get started here: https://envirojustice.org.au/three-easy-steps-how-to-write-a-submission/
Then, scroll down to read our guide on the key issues you might want to cover in your submission.
How do I lodge the submission?
You can lodge a submission by completing the ‘Public consultation questions’ on the Engage Victoria website here: https://engage.vic.gov.au/project/draft-declared-mine-regulations-ris/participate
If this is your first time using the Engage Victoria website to make a submission, you will need to create an account and verify your email address, which takes less than 1 minute.
The questionnaire is a series of 20 yes or no questions. You do not need answer every question and can skip them all if you would prefer to just make a written submission.
The final question gives you the option of uploading a written submission document. Even if you only answer the questions and don’t upload a document, your responses will still be valid.
We encourage you to make a written submission if you can because that way, you can tailor it to suit your concerns.
Alternatively, you can also post a written submission to the Department at:
Director, Policy and Legislation
Earth Resources Policy and Programs
Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
GPO Box 4509
Melbourne VIC 3001
The deadline for your submission is 5:00pm on Wednesday 17 August 2022.
We’d love for you to share your submission with us, or if you have any questions and need more support get in touch at [email protected]
What are the regulations and why are they changing?
The Victorian Government is seeking feedback for new Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) (Mineral Industries) Amendment Regulations 2022 (Declared Mine Regulations 2022) which set the legal framework for the rehabilitation of Victoria’s coal mines.
In 2019 important amendments to Victoria’s mining legislation were introduced. These amendments created new requirements for operators after their mines are closed, including for how they manage rehabilitation. They also established the Mine Land Rehabilitation Authority to monitor and advise on mine rehabilitation.
The new Declared Mine Regulations that are currently open for feedback, are intended to help make the 2019 amendments a reality, by requiring mine operators to submit new rehabilitation plans and complete annual reporting on rehabilitation risks and progress.
What needs to change?
For decades, the rehabilitation of the Latrobe Valley mines has been dictated by power station operators. The interests of the local community have been ignored, even though they are the ones left with the mine sites after the operators have taken their profits and left. As the people left with the legacy of decades of damage from coal mining, the community and the government should set the standards for rehabilitation.
Disappointingly, the proposed Declared Mine Regulations don’t go far enough to ensure the best outcomes for communities. The new standards don’t ensure transparent, evidence-based decision making and there is little consideration of community interests through consultation and feedback. It’s clear that standards for rehabilitation are still being set by the coal industry.
What is a ‘Declared Mine’?
A declared mine is a mine that poses a significant risk to public safety, the environment or public infrastructure.
Currently, the only declared mines in Victoria are the Latrobe Valley coal mines:
- Loy Yang (owned by AGL Energy)
- Hazelwood (owned by ENGIE Hazelwood)
- Yallourn (owned by EnergyAustralia)
Why should I make a submission?
Decades of coal mining to power our state has left the Latrobe Valley with giant mine pits and a toxic mess that needs to be cleaned up. We know that coal mines can leave toxic pollution behind, and declared mines in particular are identified as having a significant risk to public safety, the environment or public infrastructure. All too often, mine operators would prefer to set their own standards for mine rehabilitation and keep their costs low.
In their current form, the proposed regulations don’t go far enough to protect the community and the environment from harms that could continue decades into the future.
That’s why it is crucial we speak up for our communities and environment and demand higher standards for rehabilitation now, before the regulations are finalised.
What are the key points to include?
1. Communities should get a real say in rehabilitation plans
Under the proposed regulations, mine operators will share summaries of their plans for public feedback before government or experts have reviewed the plan. This means people are expected to provide feedback without even seeing the draft plan or having independent expert analysis available.
Leaving the consultation process to mine operators rather than the government means less accountability to the community. It also means the government is not required to consider all the public submissions and will only receive a summary of the feedback. The community will be living with the outcomes and impacts of mine rehabilitation for decades to come, so it is only fair that their views are taken into account. Deep and transparent community engagement is required to ensure that the community is not left with a legacy of environmental damage.
Meaningful and informed public consultation would involve:
- The community having an opportunity to comment on the draft plans and any expert analysis
- The community getting sufficient time to comment
- The government being required to consider public submissions in deciding whether to approve the plans
2. Rehabilitation plans and reporting should be available to the public
Mine operators are required to prepare an annual report which must include information such as the progress of the rehabilitation, any risks to the rehabilitation or non-compliance with milestones. The draft regulations don’t require rehabilitation plans or the annual reports on rehabilitation to be made available to the public. We think the community deserves to know what the rehabilitation plans involve, the risks associated with those plans and the mine operator’s progress on carrying out those plans.
To ensure this process is transparent, rehabilitation plans and annual reports submitted by mine operators should be made available to the public on the department’s website.
3. The government should set the standards for rehabilitation, not the mine operators
Crucial decisions which have enormous impacts for the community, and which should be decided by government, are still in the hands of operators under the proposed regulations. These include:
- deciding what the rehabilitation method will be, without any obligation to provide information about other viable rehabilitation methods;
- what evidence is provided to the government to support the proposal; and
- what standard the rehabilitation needs to meet before the operator gets the green light to walk away.
To ensure operators, relevant government departments and the community have clear expectations about what rehabilitation will look like, the government should set the standards for mine rehabilitation.
4. Operators should be required to assess all viable options for rehabilitation and provide evidence
The proposed regulations require plans that were submitted under the old scheme be re-submitted with a few additions, like a risk assessment and a stakeholder engagement plan. There is also no requirement for operators to demonstrate that the plans are supported by independent expert advice. This is despite the Regulatory Impact Statement stating that the proposed regulations would specify the evidence to be provided.
We think this is just a ‘dressing up’ of old plans. We’d like to see new plans which assess all the viable options for rehabilitation, to identify the risks and environmental impacts of each solution, and ensure the operators’ analysis is supported by expert evidence.
5. Government should seek independent technical advice before approving rehabilitation plans
The proposed regulations don’t require declared mine rehabilitation plans to be reviewed by technical experts or for the government to seek independent expert advice.
In our view, the government should seek independent technical advice in addition to consulting with other government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection authority.
The regulations should require rehabilitation plans to be reviewed by relevant experts, including geotechnical, hydrological, pollution and contamination experts, before any plans are approved by government.
6. Rehabilitation plans should be resubmitted sooner, so the community doesn’t have to wait another 3 years
Operators don’t need 3 years to add missing information and resubmit their rehabilitation plans.
The Latrobe Valley community have waited for over 5 years for clarity on the rehabilitation of the Hazelwood mine, and the proposed regulations allow for a further delay of 3 years before they learn whether operator’s plans are too environmentally damaging to go ahead. There needs to be further clarity on how this process will interact with the Environment Effects Statement process. There is no reason to delay clarity and transparency on the fate of Latrobe Valley coal mines for 3 more years.