NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro visited the Mount Thorley Warkworth (MTW) coalmine on Tuesday to announce a new funding program worth $108 million.
The funding to be included in the upcoming State budget is to be spent to remediatehigh risk legacy mine sites over the next ten years.
Mr Barilaro was joined by the newly sworn in member for Upper Hunter Dave Layzell at what was described as a newly rehabilitated site at Yancoal's MTW open cut.
Known as the Legacy Mines Program (LMP) funding will only be made available to projects if no person or company with direct responsibility for the rehabilitation of the mine can be located. Projects that cannot demonstrate a clear and significant link to former mining operations cannot be funded by the LMP. LMP will focus on public safety and improving the environment through remediation of historic and abandoned mines. Primary goals are to reduce risks to public health and safety.
"This significant funding boost will allow major remediation works to be completed across ten years at higher risk abandoned mine sites," Mr Barilaro said.
The LMP has no statutory or legislative responsibility to remediate any mine site and only provides funding for projects once all other avenues have been exhausted. The LMP operates on a goodwill basis and assumes no responsibility for the abandoned mine sites once works are complete.
At this stage is would appear there are no legacy mine sites in the Upper Hunter as the Deputy Premier was contacted regarding this question but no response was received.
However concerns have been raised about the cost of mine rehab first in May 2017 with a call for more money, more monitoring and better planning among the recommendations contained in the NSW Auditor-General's report into Mining Rehabilitation Security Deposits.
Last month a report 'Mind the gaps Unused capacity and unfunded rehabilitation in Upper Hunter coal mines' from the The Australia Institute said current environmental bonds will be totally inadequate to fully rehabilitate the Hunter's 23 final voids left once open cut mining ceases. T
The report said the NSW Government currently holds $3.3 billion in bonds but that between $11b and $25b would be needed to fill in the voids.
The Australia Institute's Chief Economist, Richard Denniss said the funding for the LMP shows how the taxpayer can be left footing the rehabilitation costs once mining ceases.
"That $108m could have been spent on regional and rural health facilities on education and even on funding a transition in the Upper Hunter," he said.
"But no taxpayers are funding mine rehabilitation work because the government of the day failed to ensure mine operators could not simply cease production and work away from their legacy."
He said the total lack of transparency in the funding of environmental bonds payable by mining companies in NSW meant taxpayers could be left with a massive bill once mining ceases in the Upper Hunter.
"We have looked at all the available public information on mine rehab bonds held by the government from Hunter mines and on the largest operations like MTW and Hunter Valley Operations its simply not accessible to the public," he said.
"That is not good enough given the money required to rehab these sites. In addition any new mine proposal should have these figures published along with detailed information on their future rehab."