New figures reveal the five coal companies that receive most taxpayer-subsidised diesel via the notorious Fuel Tax Credits scheme.

The study also shows that simple changes to the scheme would save $15 billion over four years.

When production figures published by mining companies are matched against Australian Tax Office data about Fuel Tax Credits given to the coal sector, a new study finds five companies – Glencore Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Peabody, Rio Tinto and Anglo American – take around $366 million a year from the taxpayer to subsidise their fuel use in coal mining operations.

The research was commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), in a bid to highlight the sweet deals given to major polluters.

“Australia’s largest coal mining companies are having their fuel subsidised by the taxpayer while they mine a highly polluting substance that is damaging the climate,” said ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.

“Australia’s current Federal Budget allocates more to fuel subsidies than to overseas aid.

“If the Government wants to create a fairer budget this year, it should reform this subsidy which encourages pollution and adds to the profits of already profitable private companies.

ACF has proposed a $20,000 cap per claimant, so those making small claims, like farmers, would not be adversely affected.

“Legal advice provided to ACF by Environmental Justice Australia shows legislative reform of the Fuel Tax Credits Scheme would be relatively straightforward,” O’Shannassy said.

“Changing the scheme would save the budget $15 billion over the forward estimates.

“Australian taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars should be used to build a better life for all of us, not to add to the bottom lines of multinational coal companies,” she said.

One of the five companies, Rio Tinto, also featured in ACF’s report on Australia’s Top 10 Climate Polluters, which examined the 10 companies that are responsible for nearly one third of Australia’s greenhouse pollution.