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Media Release: NGOs call on Minister to bring end to separate, inferior environmental rules for mines

6 April 2011 at 12:26 pm

6 April 2011

The Centre for Environmental Rights has today, on behalf of 13 civil society organisations, made a detailed submission to the Minister of Mineral Resources on the review and proposed amendment of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002. They have called on the Minister to bring environmental regulations for mines in line with those applicable to all other industries in South Africa.

Key points in the submission are the following:

  1. Despite repeated requests, the DMR has apparently only consulted with industry and labour on the amendment of the MPRDA, and requests for an opportunity to engage with the DMR on aspects of the MPRDA amendment that relate to environmental management have fallen on deaf ears. The civil society organisations have therefore prepared this submission at their own initiative and cost.
  2. The ongoing parallel and inferior environmental management system for mining is no longer justifiable in a democratic society, particularly in view of South Africa’s international and national commitments to environmental protection and the green economy. The consequences for the ongoing special treatment of mines are severe, and do nothing to benefit the country, the mining industry, mineworkers or communities. It is time for the mining industry to comply with the same rules as all other industries in South Africa.
  3. The MPRDA’s environmental management rules provide for: inadequate notice of new applications that violates the principles of administrative fairness; inadequate time and opportunities for public participation; inadequate time for proper assessment of environmental impacts; penalties that are so low as to be no disincentive whatsoever for mining companies (examples given in the submission, but the maximum fine for an offence under the MPRDA is R500,000, compared to the R5 million for similar offences in other environmental legislation).
  4. Most of these problems will be addressed by applying the environmental management rules provided for in the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 to mining. In addition, such a step would finally make an integrated licensing process for mines possible. It would also end the ongoing confusion in the mining industry about which environmental authorisations are required.
  5. However, extra procedural safeguards must apply to areas of particular sensitivity, and the NGOs reiterate their request of 1 February 2011 to the Minister to declare certain critical areas as completely prohibited from commercial prospecting and mining. Download this letter to the Minister here.
  6. Applicants for mining and related rights must be obliged to give full access to key information relating to their applications to the DMR to all interested and affected parties, i.e. without a lengthy and onerous application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000.

“The focus of our concern and endeavours is not to oppose mining, but to ensure that adequate assessment and mitigation of detrimental impacts take place within reasonable timeframes before prospecting and mining are commenced, followed by predictable compliance monitoring of requirements set, and strong enforcement action taken when non-compliance is found. This is the only way to ensure responsible environmental practices at mines, in the interest of workers, communities and the country.”

A copy of the full submission can be accessed here.

The NGOs who support this submission are:

  • BirdLife South Africa
  • Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Centre for Environmental Rights
  • Earthlife Africa Cape Town, eThekwini and Johannesburg
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust
  • Environmental Monitoring Group
  • Federation for a Sustainable Environment
  • groundWork
  • Lawyers for Human Rights
  • South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
  • Wilderness Foundation
  • Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa
  • World Wide Fund for Nature – South Africa

Queries and quotes attributable to Melissa Fourie, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Rights. [email protected], 021 447 1647 or 072 306 8888. Media can also contact any of the organisations listed above for comment.