A PROGRAMME to prevent pollution from 25 old coal mines turning rivers across Scotland orange has been shelved because of government spending cutbacks.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is so upset by the cancellation of clean-up plans that it is lodging a protest with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in London. The cutbacks are "extremely disappointing", SEPA says, and could compromise its targets for improving Scotland's rivers.
Centuries of coal mining in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Falkirk, Fife and Lothian have left a multimillion pound pollution legacy. After mines are closed and flooded, iron next to the coal seams is washed out into nearby streams, where it reacts with oxygen, rusts and turns bright orange.
Sepa has identified five mining areas in Scotland where cleaning up this pollution is now a high priority. The most serious case is at Pitfirrane, near Dunfermline in Fife, where mine water escaping from a seven-kilometre drainage tunnel dating back to 1773 is contaminating the Lyne Burn.
Work was due to start this summer on a settlement and filtration scheme to reduce the iron in the water. But because of cutbacks by the DTI, this has now been indefinitely postponed.
Sepa’s other four priority areas are Fordell Castle at Inverkeithing in Fife, Blindwells near Tranent in East Lothian, and Elginhaugh and Old Fordell, both near Dalkeith in Midlothian. Clean-up plans for these areas have also had to be pushed back.
According to the government's Coal Authority, which is responsible for cleaning up after the coal industry, there are another 20 places in Scotland where smaller amounts of pollution are being discharged from old mines (see table below).
But as part of a drive to cut public expenditure across Whitehall departments, the Coal Authority’s budget is being slashed. It has been told by the DTI that its spending will have to fall from more than £6.5 million in 2005-06 to just £1m in 2007-08.
The authority, which is based at Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, has had to drop projects in Scotland in order to complete five schemes in England and Wales. It is also diverting resources to tackle a major discharge at an old mine in County Durham that is threatening to contaminate drinking water.
The delays in Scotland were described as “unfortunate and disappointing” by Keith Parker, the Coal Authority’s head of environmental projects. The pollution at Pitfirrane was “of considerable concern”, he said, although the earliest that work could now start there was 2008-09.
And because no budget has yet been agreed for that year, schemes could be further delayed. “We are in dialogue with DTI regarding the funding situation and hope budgets can be restored to previous levels,” Parker said.
He pointed out that since 1997 more than 40 mine water remediation schemes had been completed, including 12 in Scotland. They included Frances Colliery in Fife, Monktonhall in Midlothian, Polkemmet in West Lothian and Glenburn in South Ayrshire.
On Friday Sepa sent a letter to the DTI, and a copy to the Scottish Executive, complaining about the cutbacks. “This could potentially impact on Sepa’s continuing successful work in improving water quality in Scotland,” Sepa’s environmental quality manager, Jim Pritchard, told the Sunday Herald.
The cutbacks were "deeply worrying", according to Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland. "If priority schemes don't even happen then we can kiss goodbye to any chance that the many other polluted sites across Scotland will be cleaned up," he said.
“In many places this will add to the environmental injustice felt by communities still struggling to come to terms with the damage coal mining operations have caused.”
McLaren called on Scottish ministers to protect Scotland’s environment “from DTI bean-counters in London”.
The DTI confirmed that funding for the Coal Authority was being reduced because of “constraints in the department’s spending”. A spokesman added: “It is for the Coal Authority to decide what the best use of that funding is.”
POLLUTION FROM OLD COAL MINES
High priority for clean-up:
Blindwells, Tranent, East Lothian
Elginhaugh, Dalkeith, Midlothian
Fordell castle, Inverkeithing, Fife
Old Fordell, Dalkeith, Midlothian
Pitfirrane, Dunfermline, Fife
Also discharging pollution:
Barbauchlaw Burn, Armadale, West Lothian
Boghead, Bathgate, West Lothian
Carmuirs, Bonnybridge, Falkirk
Chang Farm, Cumnock, East Ayrshire
Dowhail, Dalmellington, South Ayrshire
Glenbuck, Muirkirk, East Ayrshire
Harwood, West Calder, West Lothian
Joppa, East Lothian
Lugar, Cumnock, East Ayrshire
Muir Burn, Coalburn, South Lanarkshire
Parsons Mill, Auchterderran, Fife
Pennyvenie, Dalmellington, South Ayrshire
Rowantree, Bonnybridge, Falkirk
Urquhart, Dunfermline, Fife
Vogrie 1, Gorebridge, Midlothian
Vogrie 2, Gorebridge, Midlothian
Walstone Muir, Penicuik, Midlothian
West Colquahally, Auchterderran, Fife
Wilsontown Bridge, Forth, South Lanarkshire
source: The Coal Authority (pdf available to download here).