‘Disgraceful’ enforcement of clean-up laws

Activists say that Indonesia’s environment is at risk due to the government’s failure to enforce reclamation and post-mining rehabilitation regulations on the nation’s mining companies.

“We’ve seen poor awareness on the needs and the importance of reclamation and post-mining rehabilitation despite existing rules on mandatory activities to repair the environmental impacts of mining,” Dyah Paramita, a researcher from Indonesia Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), said.

The government has not fully enforced two rules that oblige companies to reclaim and rehabilitate abandoned mines: the 2009 Law on Mineral and Coal Mining and a 2010 government regulation on reclamation and post-mining rehabilitation.

In Samarinda, East Kalimantan, for example, nine companies with mining exploration licenses, two companies with exploration concessions and eight companies with exploitation concessions were given a green light despite their failure to pay reclamation fees.

“It is disgraceful to see our government give its approval to mining companies to start their activities even in the absence of completely fulfilled requirements,” Dyah said, adding that as of May, the East Kalimantan administration issued mining licenses for 65 areas comprising about 80 percent of Samarinda.

Two local regulations explicitly described the rules for reclamation.

“It is clear that mining companies must first deal with the requirements on reclamation before starting their activities,” Carolus Tuah, an activist from Samarinda-based Pokja 30, said, adding that most mining companies could negotiate compliance with the administration.

“It seems that it is getting easier to obtain a mining license in Samarinda,” Tuah said, citing as example the local administration’s issuance of 38 mining licenses between 2006-2008, up from 16 between 2001 and 2006.

“Many miners claimed that they have ‘reclaimed’ the mines by reconfiguring the abandoned mine pits as fishing ponds, or other such irrelevant activities. Post-mining rehabilitation means revegetation,” Tuah said.

Amid lax enforcement, environmental damage in Samarinda continues to worsen. Floods have become commonplace as mining has led to erosion and large-scale flooding.

Tuah said mining companies in Samarinda had burdened the local administration instead of providing a significant financial contribution to the local budget.

“We have to spend a lot of money to mitigate the impact, including floods, caused by the mining activities, which has created a local budget deficit during the last two periods,” Tuah said. “Massive mining in Samarinda has not significantly contributed to the sustainable prosperity of its people.”

A recent ICEL report said that reclamation fees were the only requirement imposed by the Indonesian government on mining companies to ensure a responsible approach was taken to preserve the environment and to replace soil damaged during their work.

The study added that mining companies should pay “reasonable” attention to reclamation and post-mining rehabilitation so abandoned mines might be made usable again.

Local mining companies, the report said, paid little attention to post-mining rehabilitation, leaving a huge amount of environmental damage in the wake of their work.

“It is funny to see how we can hear and see the damage resulting from mining but we cannot get the names of those who were really responsible,” Dyah said.

Abandoned mine reclamation funds were one initiative that might be developed.

“Mining companies operating in Indonesia should be more responsible for post-mining rehabilitation by allocating a significant amount of funds, taken from their revenue, for abandoned mine reclamation,” Dyah said.

The government would then have more money for things such as healthcare and education, since it would not have to pay to mitigate the damage caused by private mining companies, Dyah said.