The Durham-based coal company, Hargreaves Services, is lobbying for exemptions to carbon taxes so that it can mine new coal and use some of the profits to restore derelict opencast sites. But critics say the tax breaks could just end up subsidising mines that damage the environment and fail to restore some of the worst sites.
Instead they are proposing using carbon taxes to build up a £100 million restoration fund. This could ensure that restoration is properly targeted, sustainable and of real benefit to communities and the environment, they argue.
After two coal companies went bust in 2013, Scotland was left with a massive £200 million hole in the funds needed to clean up the mess made by 32 opencast coal mines in East Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife and Midlothian.
Ministers and industry have since been struggling with how to ensure that the promises made to local communities to repair their scarred landscapes are kept. Hargreaves, which now operates seven opencast mines and looks after another seven defunct mines in Scotland, warned in December that falling coal prices would lead to a big drop in profits this year.