Scotland’s landscape could be permanently scarred by the legacy of opencast coal unless a tax on carbon is waived, it has been claimed.
The Scottish Coal Task Force has pledged to put pressure on the UK Government to scrap the tax on coal being extracted for restoration purposes.
The Scottish Government last week reversed a decision to wind up the task force amid fears an industry crisis could leave communities and landscapes devastated.
The group, which involves governments, councils and trade unions, will now reconvene next year to try to stem the loss of jobs and ensure ravaged land is restored.
Hargreaves Services, which owns St Ninian’s and Muir Dean opencast sites in Fife, has already warned that falling coal prices will lead to a big drop in profits, prompting fears of cutbacks at its mines.
Fife MSP Alex Rowley, a member of the task force, said it was now difficult to see how the coal industry could survive.
He is supporting the proposal for exemptions to the carbon tax, stating it could lead to significant benefits at St Ninian’s near Kelty.
“There remain several pockets of coal on and around the site that could contribute to a fuller restoration scheme,” he said.
The Labour MSP claimed allowing Hargreaves to remove the coal without being taxed around £40 per tonne could deliver a number of benefits, including improved water treatment at Loch Fitty.
It would also improve the site to such an extent that leisure activities such as hiking, biking and fishing could be introduced there, he said.
“Additional funds could help with the creation of a public outdoor centre with additional parking to create a more expansive network of paths and cycle paths in the future,” said Mr Rowley.
“However, the price of coal is very low and the tax on it means companies aren’t making any money.
“If the industry does not survive it could leave us with a major problem.
“The skills will go and the large machinery will be shipped abroad which, Hargreaves say, will leave us with all these massive holes in the ground.
“That’s why I am supporting a proposal to get carbon price support exemption introduced for coal restoration sites.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, MSP for mid Scotland and Fife, said he was angry that despite repeated warnings the country was facing another crisis in the opencast coal industry.
“With the collapse of the coal price we are facing a halt in production in Scotland that could leave us with a legacy of polluted water, barren land, a blighted landscape and a health and safety headache,” he said.
Mr Rennie accused the Scottish Government of failing communities, saying: “Instead of recklessly promoting the exploitation of new opencast mines, they should have focused on a plan to restore the failed sites that are already blighting our countryside.”
A spokesman for energy minister Fergus Ewing said the achievements of the task force had been considerable, adding it would continue to ensure progress on restoration.