16 March 2012

When the Mining Is Over, a Toxic Mess Remains

The East Kalimantan administration has revealed that 230 degraded coal mining concessions in the province have never been restored by the concession holders, despite their obligation to do so

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang | Jakarta Globe | March 08, 2012
Coal mining at Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), PT. Bumi Resources in East Kalimantan. Land reclamation efforts in East Kalimantan have been hampered by the central governmentCoal mining at Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), PT. Bumi Resources in East Kalimantan. Land reclamation efforts in East Kalimantan have been hampered by the central government's reluctance to release jamrek funds. The province is now littered with toxic abandoned mines. (Photo Courtesy of PT. Bumi Resources)

Governor Awang Farouk Ishak said on Tuesday that among the factors behind this problem was the fact that some of the money for the reclamation was not being released by the central government.

The land-reclamation fund, known as jaminan reklamasi or jamrek , constitutes deposits paid by all mining companies to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry (ESDM) prior to the start of mining.

Once their mining operations are finished, the deposit is returned to the companies to use in rehabilitating and restoring any areas within their concessions that were degraded as a result of their activities.
Awang said that in many former concession sites, no reclamation had been done, leaving the areas full of gaping, rainwater-filled craters.

“We want to know why the deposits aren’t being released for the purpose of reclamation, when the companies have already paid them to the central government, in this case the ESDM,” he said at a symposium.

In January, two children drowned after falling into a disused mine shaft that had filled up with water in Samarinda, the provincial capital. The large amounts of loose soil in abandoned concessions have also contributed to landslides and flash floods during heavy rains.

Officials at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the governor’s claim.

Awang said another factor in the problem was that the provincial administration did not have enough authority to take action against companies failing to rehabilitate their concessions once their operations were over.

Under prevailing regulations, the matter falls under the jurisdiction of district and municipal authorities, while provincial authorities only play a monitoring role.

“We need to have a greater role because there are a lot of problem mining companies that the lower-level authorities are not cracking down on,” the governor said. “If the provincial government was given the power to act against those companies, we would do it.”

Kahar Al Bahri, the coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), told the symposium that no mining company in the province had rehabilitated more than 50 percent of its concessions. Most, he said, only restored around 30 percent and stopped there.

“Even the major companies only do window dressing [for their disused mines],” he said. “That means that they’ll take just a 30-hectare area out of their whole concession and rehabilitate it as much as possible so that they can show it off to visiting government officials.”

Kahar said it was urgent that all disused mining shafts be closed off, otherwise rainwater would continue to leak the toxic chemicals within into the groundwater and contaminate local water supplies.
He also said that over the next 30 years, some 3,000 mine shafts were expected to go out of commission in the province, based on data from the Forestry Ministry.

“It would be incredibly stupid of the government to expect to be able to reclaim all that land on its own,” he said. “That would be a huge burden on the government and the regional budgets.”

To get the companies to face up to their responsibilities, he urged the authorities to be more strict about enforcing the reclamation regulation.

“There must be a high level of control from the authorities. If there’s a violation, it must be addressed immediately. Revoke the company’s permit if necessary,” Kahar said.

“The problem now is that the control from the authorities and the communities is weak because the companies are denying them access to the concessions.”

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