This week’s Budget contained a welcome commitment by the UK government to work with the Scottish Open Cast Coal Task Force to explore options to deliver restoration at derelict opencast mines in Scotland.
The collapse of opencast coal operators in Scotland in 2013 left us with a terrible legacy of scarred landscapes, dangerous voids and trashed wildlife habitats. Incredibly, the industry was able to walk away with profits made over the years but to escape paying for an estimated £200 million of clean-up costs.
The coal sector is in inevitable decline as we decarbonise our energy sector. Some supporters of the industry are now pushing for tax breaks for coal extraction, in part as a means of delivering restoration. Given its track record, it is regrettable that any taxpayer funds need to be used to clean up after this industry, but action does need to be taken for the sake of the environment, local communities and to secure jobs.
However, this vital support for restoration must not just be a tax break that rewards the very industry that caused the problems we now face. Instead, a restoration fund should be established to support local restoration jobs and target restoration where it is most needed without artificially sustaining coal extraction.
Existing tax revenues on the burning of coal could be put towards repairing the damage the coal industry has caused across Scotland. We need a responsible approach to funding the necessary repair and enhancement of the areas that have been open cast in Scotland, which both supports jobs and uses taxpayer funds for the benefit of local communities and the environment. The last thing we need is a tax break that encourages more unsustainable and irresponsible coal extraction.
Director, RSPB Scotland
Director, WWF Scotland
(DR) RICHARD DIXON
Director, Friends of the Earth Scotland