Mining companies would be required to improve the standard of mine site rehabilitation under a series of proposed reforms.
Under the proposals by the NSW Resource Regulator mining leases would have new conditions added requiring companies to regularly report on rehabilitation progress and provide updated rehabilitation management plans.
The state government has come under sustained criticism for being too lenient regarding rehabilitation conditions in areas such as the Hunter.
In addition to ongoing environmental degradation, poor rehabilitation contributes to poor air and water quality.
Five Hunter coal mines failed government audits of their rehabilitation works in mid 2019, sparking fears the environment and taxpayers were being exposed to significant risk.
Mt Thorley Warkworth, Muswellbrook Coal, Ravensworth Operations, Rix's Creek North Coal Mine and Rix's Creek South Coal Mine failed to meet environmental management and rehabilitation compliance standards.
Among other issues, the Resources Regulator uncovered ongoing delays in rehabilitation works, erosion features ignored, unexplained areas of low species diversity and poor record keeping.
In a fact sheet accompanying the proposed changes, the regulator said there was a need for stronger requirements for progressive rehabilitation of mine sites, starting early in a mine's lifecycle.
"The (proposed) reforms introduce regulatory tools and set clear, focused requirements for rehabilitation throughout a mine's life, from the mine design stage to closure," the regulator said.
"These new conditions will replace existing rehabilitation conditions on current mining leases and will be added to all new mining leases through the regulation. Progressive rehabilitation, rehabilitation risk assessment, annual reporting and detailed rehabilitation management planning will be required through the new mining lease conditions."
Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokeswoman Georgina Woods described the proposed changes as a step in the right direction.
"We hope this requirement will bring more transparency and consistency to mine rehabilitation," she said.
"The proof of its effectiveness will be whether the Berejiklian Government ensures there is sufficient rigour in the system so that mining companies don't delay and weasel out.
The group is also lobbying for the government to develop a policy for dealing with final pit voids.
"Properly rehabilitating pit voids creates jobs, and it reduces the draw down of water from creeks, rivers and aquifers," Ms Woods said.
Mines have traditionally provided regulators with cash deposits to guarantee taxpayers will not be left to pay for rehabilitation works.
But the adequacy of the funds has been questioned following the bankruptcy of major coal miners in recent years.
Submissions to the proposed reforms close on November 6.
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