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With Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

Panoramic view of the Grasberg gold and copper mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. (Image by Richard Jones/Flickr ; Mongabay)

 

  • The Indonesian government has acquired a majority stake in the operator of the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines.
  • The $3.85 billion deal has been lauded as a move toward resource sovereignty, but there’s been little mention of who inherits the massive pollution legacy left from decades of mining waste being dumped in rivers and forests.
  • Activists are also calling for clarity in how the acquisition will improve the lives of the indigenous Papuan communities living around the mine, as well as end the long-running conflicts pitting them against the mine operator and security forces.

 

JAKARTA — When the Indonesian government took a controlling stake in the operator of one of the world’s richest gold mines at the end of 2018, proponents hailed the move as a historic step toward national and economic resource sovereignty.

The breathless media coverage of the transaction, which saw the government take a 51 percent stake in PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), previously majority-owned by Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, framed it as the “return” of a prized asset — the Grasberg gold and copper mine — to the Indonesian public after decades of foreign control.

But little was said about the long legacy of toxic pollution from the mine, or how exactly the new arrangement, at a cost of $3.85 billion to Indonesia, would finally bring real benefits to the indigenous people on whose land the mine sits, and who remain among the most impoverished communities in Indonesia.

 

Inheriting a pollution problem

Under the terms of the acquisition, a 41.2 percent stake in PTFI goes to state-owned smelting company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium, better known as Inalum. A 10 percent stake is held by the government of Papua province, where Grasberg is located. That latter stake, in turn, is managed 60:40 between an Inalum-controlled company and a province-owned firm. Freeport remains the operator of the mine.

But along with ownership in one of the most coveted mines on Earth, Inalum and the Papua government have also inherited a pollution problem stemming from the mining waste, or tailings, churned out by PTFI over decades.

“Does the completion of the divestment deal mean that the environmental problems can be resolved? No,” said Merah Johansyah Ismail, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO. Following the takeover, he says, the national and provincial governments will also have to take the brunt of the fallout from the environmental damage caused by the mining operations.

Read moreWith Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

On an Island in the Sun, Coal Power is King Over Abundant Solar

Balinese fishermen from Celukan Bawang village stage a protest against the coal plant for pollution and job loss. Image courtesy of Greenpeace.

 

  • Locals and environmentalists have opposed a plan to expand a coal-fired power plan in northern Bali, Indonesia.
  • They are worried that the expansion will exacerbate the existing impact of the plant on the environment and locals’ health and livelihoods.
  •  A particular concern focuses on the survival of dolphins and endemic species living in close proximity to the plant, with Greenpeace saying the dolphins have particularly been affected since the plant came on line in 2015.
  • Another major worry is air pollution, with many locals complaining of respiratory ailments as a result of the fumes and coal dust emitted from the plant.

 

JAKARTA — Dolphins haven’t had it easy in Bali, a resort island in Indonesia that’s massively popular with tourists.

They’re often held captive in chlorinated pools for traveling circuses; a report alleges that dolphins at one such outfit had their teeth filed down or removed altogether to prevent bite injuries to swimmers.

But the biggest challenge they face is one that threatens their habitat and that could potentially drive them away from the island’s waters. That challenge comes in the form of a massive coal-fired power plant in the sleepy fishing village of Celukan Bawang, on Bali’s north coast. The plant lies west of the popular Lovina Beach, a prime spot for dolphin-watching boat tours.

But the tour operators could soon be out of business, if the grim scenario painted by a Greenpeace report plays out. Since the plant began operating in 2015, the environmental watchdog says, it has dumped coal waste residue on the land and in the sea, wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. The steady traffic of coal barges supplying the plant have also damaged coral reefs and driven away fish.

The impact has been far-reaching, the report says, with local fishermen forced to sail further out to sea because of declining catches in their traditional fishing areas closer to shore.

In hot water

 

Didit Haryo, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, says dolphins are among the animals most affected by the power plant.

The plant is just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Lovina Beach, and as such lies easily within the typical dolphin roaming range of around 40 kilometers.

“In the past, locals in Celukan Bawang said there were still many dolphins passing by,” Didit told Mongabay. “But they say they rarely see dolphins nowadays.”

There are several ways in which the plant is potentially impacting the local dolphin population, says Putu Liza Kusuma Mustika, a marine mammal expert at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Read moreOn an Island in the Sun, Coal Power is King Over Abundant Solar

491 Years Old Jakarta: An Age for Environmental Health

A worker finishes the revitalization of a watered area in Kota Tua, West Jakarta, Tuesday, Jan. 30. (JP/Seto Wardhana.)

 

As with every birthday I wish to plead good health, and every June 22 I also silently pray for Jakarta to get healthier. Relatively young by celebrated age, modern Jakarta has been suffering various symptoms of a sick body and the problem becomes more critical by each passing year. Unfortunately, the very environmental component of Jakarta is bad enough — and it costs us our health.

The air quality, much complained about, is surpassing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline for majority of the year with only 25 to 26 of the days throughout 2017 in good quality for everyone, according to the United States Embassy. Since breathing is 24/7, the potential for disease from air pollution is the highest. Earlier last year, medical journal The Lancet Commission had a report on pollution and human health that predicted that 72 percent of premature deaths worldwide are associated with air pollution.

The water is in no better shape — Ciliwung, Jakarta’s biggest river is famous as one of the most polluted rivers globally, for year after year it has not moved from the heavily polluted quality classification, as reported by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2017. In the sea, toxic soil of Jakarta Bay, a cocktail sediment of various heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, is now being abruptly stirred up by the infamous reclamation project, bringing in more waste and plastics to the bay.

Read more491 Years Old Jakarta: An Age for Environmental Health