Tag Archives: Environment Act

NRI research fellow: deepsea mining is risky business

Nalau Bingeding* | PNG Perspective

THIS is a reality of life. Every development comes at a cost to any organism (including man) that occupies an area of land, air or sea. The cost of that development can be environmental, social or economical, and the impact of that development can be spread over time and space. Therefore, the proposed deep sea mining by Nautilus Minerals cannot merely be assumed to have no impact on the environment and organisms that occupy the Bismarck Sea and beyond, in both space and time.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a land blessed with abundant mineral resources, and much of the land and sea have been mapped out for exploration and mining. Currently more than 10 large scale mines are in operation on land, and there is possibility for more mines on land to be opened up in the near future. However, the socio-economic impacts of these 10 or more so large scale mines have had little rub-off effect on the country’s population at large. So what is the point of opening up more mines when 80% of the country’s population sees little or no benefit of mining activities?

It is a fact of life that minerals are non-renewable resources because they cannot be re-grown like trees if they are depleted. It is possible for mineral resources to be renewed through the activities of nature, but that will simply not happen in the lifetime of our current generation.  Therefore, the sustainability of mineral resources is paramount to the well-being of every organism that will occupy time and space in this nation right now and into the unforeseeable future.

We do not need to look far to understand the need for sustainability of mineral resources to the economy of our nation. Our neighboring Pacific Island nation of Nauru is a good example of what can go wrong with poor management of mineral resources.

In 1906 the Germans began mining phosphate on Nauru. Later on the British, the Australians and New Zealanders joined in the mining of phosphate on Nauru. With a very small population, the phosphate mining made Nauruans some of the richest people on Earth on a per capita basis. However, it was not until the 2000s that phosphate reserves on Nauru ran out.

Today Nauru is bankrupt because the Trust Fund set up from phosphate money had been tampered with by politicians. The shipping company and a bank set up from phosphate money are not doing well right now, and Nauru cannot resuscitate its economy. What are left of Nauru right now are is degraded landscape and about 10 thousand people, most of whom are diabetics who continuously need dialysis because their kidneys are not functioning normally. The country could not depend on ecotourism or other sectors to resuscitate its economy since nothing was done to rehabilitate the environment or fund other sectors of the economy since the 1900s.

The case of Nauru is a lesson to PNG. Although we are blessed with abundant mineral reserves, the sustainability of these resources is not guaranteed if we cannot manage them properly. What needs to be done is for us to develop our minerals and other natural resources in concert with the basic needs of our increasing population – this is known as “Need Based Development”. We do not have to play to the tune of multinational corporations who are here today and gone tomorrow and will not face the consequences of unsustainable mining that our present and future generations will face. Gold dredging in the Bulolo valley in the 1930s and the recent civil war on Bougainville are some historical lessons on mineral sustainability to our economy we should learn from and not repeat the same mistakes. Moreover, we do not need to rush the development of our mineral resources based on the whims of a few politicians and bureaucrats who see mining as a bridge to becoming filthy rich overnight.

Furthermore, the Environment Act 2000 is a technically flawed document. This Act has compromised the value of the terrestrial environment and deprived customary landowners of their rights to adequate equity and compensation for the loss of their pristine environments in regard to large scale developments in this country. Forest die-back along the banks of the Fly River and the recent spate of dead fish in the Watut and Markham rivers are some of the testimonies that demonstrate how pathetic this document is.

Therefore, what benefit is the Environment Act 2000 to the marine environment and the coastal people who sustain their livelihood and subsistence from the sea? The magnitude and scope of deep sea mining on the marine environment is an unknown quantity, so what guarantee of protection does the Environment Act give to the marine environment and peoples whose lives depends on the sea?

Our record with monitoring land based mining activities is pathetic. DEC does not have the capability to monitor mine discharges from land based mines into rivers and the seas. DEC depends on mining companies to provide it with data on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee that the data provided has not been tampered with or if it has any scientific integrity. If DEC cannot handle discharge from land based mines into the rivers and seas, what could it do with mining that takes place at 1600m below the sea surface?

Environmental Impact Statements produced by developers and submitted to DEC have become the ridicule of some academics and NGOs in recent years. The quality of many of these Environmental Impact Statements do not meet scientific scrutiny but are entertained by DEC, and in many cases, Environmental Permits have been issued without due diligence.  One Environmental Impact Statement for an SABL in one area had pictures of birds from Siberia (Russia) incorporated as proof of wildlife from that particular area, but this document was accepted by DEC. This is hilarious, and shows how low DEC can stoop to compromise the value of the natural environment and the lives of the people of this country. Therefore, what guarantee is there that an Environmental Permit will not be issued even if the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Nautilus for the deep sea mining does not meet rigorous scientific scrutiny?

The process to which large scale developments are scrutinized and Environmental Permits are granted in this country is technically flawed. The process gives ultimate authority for issuing an Environmental Permit for any level 3 or 2 projects to the Director of DEC. The Minister for Environment and Conservation only approves the Environmental Impact Statement in principal, but the issuance of the Environmental Permit is the prerogative of the DEC Director. The process does not even allow for Environmental Impact Statements or other documents of projects to be taken to the NEC for perusal and endorsement – after the Minister for Environment and Conservation approves the document in principal, the DEC Director handles everything thereafter. So what guarantee is there that this technically flawed process is not going to be used for the deep sea mining project?

There is no process available for stakeholders to sit around a table and rigorously scrutinize an Environmental Impact Statement for a large scale development before it is taken to the NEC for endorsement. Despite DEC making the Environmental Impact Statement available to the public for viewing, the roundtable discussion is the most important step where civil societies, government agencies, the developer and other interested parties sit around the table and grill each other over the quality and benefit of the project to all parties concern. Currently, DEC implements most of the formalities in relation to Environmental Impact Statements, and Environmental Permits while other government agencies are used as rubber-stamps for large scale projects, and civil societies and customary landowners are mere spectators. Therefore, unless something drastic is done otherwise the same procedure will be applied to the deep sea mine project.

As a regulator of the environment, DEC is required to carry out a Baseline Study in a proposed project area before any actual work begins. The data collected by DEC is to be analyzed, compiled, and used as reference data to monitor the operations of the project throughout its lifespan. If DEC finds through its regular monitoring that the operations of a project has caused an environmental parameter to be abnormally different from the compiled baseline data, the department can then advise the developer to make adjustments to rectify the situation or shut down the operations until corrective measures are put in place. Nevertheless, Baseline Studies have rarely been carried out by DEC, and developers easily get away with environmental issues at the expense of the natural environment and customary landowners because there is no Baseline Data to prove that something abnormal has happened. The recent case of dead fishes in the Watut and Markham rivers is an example of what can happen with compensation claims when there is no Baseline Data to prove that something unusual has happened. So, the question is, do we already have a Baseline Data for the deep sea mine?

*Nalau Bingeding is a Research Fellow under  the Land Development Research Program of the Wealth Creation Pillar at the National Research Institute.

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Environment Act review in Papua New Guinea praised

A PAPUA New Guinea student studying in an Australian university has praised the government for repealing amendments to the Environment Act 2000, reports The National.

James Cook University student Raymond Unasi said:

“It is very encouraging and timely to read that the O’Neill government, through the Minister for Environment and Conservation Thompson Harokaqveh, has fulfilled the promises to repeal the amendments of the Environment Act 2000.”

Unasi, who is doing his master of science (natural resource management), said the process of community consultation, stakeholder opinion reviews and professional sound advice to the former government against amending the Act had been hijacked from the very beginning.

He said communities, villagers, learned men and women of law, science, society and the common sense of every living citizen of this country were bashed and nailed to the wall when the last government bulldozed the amendment just to please an entity in the name of community development and economic gain.

“During the modern times of social media freedom and internet age there is simply no space to bulldoze or shove things down people’s throats, the very entity every elected leader and government stands to represent,” he said.

Unasi said that amendment put PNG on the map as one of the most reckless and uncaring countries in the world as regards protecting the environment despite preaching much about carbon emissions and trading.

“From a systematic point of view, every procedure or process that moves a stone, rock or grass from the surface of the land and/or sea floor needs to have a very effective and strategic mitigation monitoring and social effect determined.

“The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes in every independent country are a tool to determine developers have a path way or road map in which resources, infrastructure or foreign obstacle are placed within a natural precinct.

“The EIA stages to which this amendment threatened and did resolve to relinquish power to a single desk (director) was insane and devilish,” he said.

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What the latest Enviro law changes mean for the Ramu mine

Controversial laws in Papua New Guinea that protected resource projects from legal challenges have been repealed… what does that mean for the owners of the Ramu nickel mine?

Presenter Geraldine Coutts, ABC Radio
Speaker Tiffany Twivey managing partner of Twivey lawyers.
 

TWIVEY:   For example, I’ll say what a landowner will be able to do now I’ll refer the Ramu Nickel case. In that case, the Supreme Court 2 to 1 said that because the Ramu Nickel people had a permit to dump, until they did something wrong, the landowners shouldn’t be able to sue to stop them or sue for compensation. If these amendments were in place they wouldn’t be able to sue for compensation. Now those amendments have gone, they now will be able to sue, because the Supreme Court said that they couldn’t get the injunction to stop it, because Ramu Nickel already had a permit until actually Ramu Nickel actually did something wrong. If the amendments weren’t removed, Ramu Nickel once they did something wrong could actually get retrospective approval for it and the landowners would have had their rights to sue taken away, even though the supreme court didn’t give them an injunction to stop it on the basis of them actually having rights. So in effect, it gives the Ramu Nickel landowners a right to sue Ramu Nickel in the future for any damage done outside the terms of the permit and to stop it.

COUTTS:   Alright, well what about the class action that you’ve got going at the moment? Does that mean it doesn’t need to proceed?

TWIVEY:   Oh, no. Well you see the landowners they don’t want the damage to occur in the first place and the national court judge accepted the landowners scientific evidence it was going to be an environment disaster this dumping and rejected the scientific evidence from the consultants to the mining company who said they’d be negligible damage and that’s why he held nuisance was proved.

Now the mining company appealed that and the Supreme Court, the judge in the minority who wanted to stop it said that greed with the scientific evidence that there would be an environmental catastrophe and the other two judges who refused to grant an injunction on a technicality really didn’t touch that finding at all. So the fact of the matter is the National Court judge’s finding that it’s going to be an environmental catastrophe stands and, of course, the landowners don’t want that environmental catastrophe. The sea is their food security, their whole cultural lives revolve around it. In Papua New Guinea, we have customary rights over reefs and the sea which may not occur in Britain or Australia, but in Papua New Guinea they do and it provides all their protein, it provides seaweed for greens etc. Now if that’s damaged by toxic mine waste, it’s going to be damaged forever and a completely different ecology will take place. So the action by the landowners was to stop the damage before it started. They weren’t claiming compensation because they haven’t started dumping. So now they still want to stop it before it starts, but, now, of course, the only option left to them is actually some more legislation from the government to interfere in this process.

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Minister: Env Act Amendments one of the worst abuses of executive power

Hon. Thomson Harokaq’veh

Mr. Speaker, repealing the Environment Act Amendments was my 1st priority when sworn in as Minister for Environment and Conservation in the O’Neill- Namah government.

Now before us is the bill to revoke the Ammendment and restore its original intent and in line with our 4th Goal of the National Constitution and its Directive Principles.

Mr. Speaker, once the repeal Act is passed by parliament the integrity of the Environment Act and its processes for environment approvals will be restored and one of the worst abuses of executive power by a government will have been reversed.

Mr. Speaker, the former government passed these amendments against the advice of their advisers in the Department of Environment and Conservation. DEC deemed the amendments as unnecessary and undesirable. The Ammendment Act was recepied and cooked in the kitchen and brought straight in keeping the department in the cold

Mr. Speaker, the amendments also placed very significant powers into the hands of the Director of Environment. Eventually placing far too much pressure on a public servant and could lead to improper attempts to influence his decisions.  Maintaining the integrity of decision making processes under the Environment Act is critical to its effective functioning. These amendments by transferring significant powers to the Director of Environment undermined the Environment Act and the normal processes of a democratic government.

Speaker, the amendments aimed to prevent landowners protecting their constitutional rights through appealing to the courts to review decisions of the government.  It is essential that the rights of courts to review decisions by the government made under the environment act are retained.

Mr. Speaker, it is also essential that the rights of landowners to request review by the courts is maintained.  I am committed to protecting the rights of landowners to ensure their livelihoods and way of life are protected whilst promoting environmentally sound economic development which will benefit all Papua New Guineans.

Mr. Speaker, repealing the Environment Act Amendments is a big first step for myself and the O’Neill-Namah government in restoring the proper rights of landowners to be able to protect their interests.

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that restoring the environment act’s integrity by repealing the amendments may at times result in delays to resource project commencement when landowners feel the need to take action through the courts. However, this is both a normal and reasonable requirement in a democratic nation.

Mr. Speaker, the environment act has been in operation since 2004 and has been a key element in balancing the needs of the environment with economic growth.  It has a very important role to play during the current resource development boom in ensuring we continue to find a sound balance between environment protection and economic development.

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O’Neill-Namah govt repeals Chinese amendments to Environment Act

Martyn Namorong

Chinese Miners (MCC) and their lawyer face the Press outside the National Court in Madang

When Justice Catherine Davani handed down the only dissenting Judgment regarding the Ramu Nickel case, she suggested that the Environment be protected. At paragraph 111 of SCA 84 of 2011, Louis Medang v. MCC she stated:

“I find that Environmental damage is imminent; that this damage will be substantial and irreparable and finally, that violation of the appellant’s rights is inevitable. The Quia Timmet injunction must be awarded to the appellants.”

Yesterday Minister for Environment in the O’Neil-Namah Government, Hon Thompson Haroquave carried through on his promise to the People of Papua New Guinea and ensured that Parliament repealed amendments to the Environment Act made in favour of Chinese miner MCC.

The former Somare regime bulldozed amendments to the Act in July 2009 to deny landowners the right to question damaging activities on their land. According to Mine Watch blog, the amendments were drafted by Allens Arthur Robinson at the behest of Chinese miner MCC as it faced a legal battle over its plan to dump toxic mine waste into the Bismarck Sea.

Lawyer Tiffany Twivvey who had represented Madang Landowners in the case against the Chinese miner MCC was ecstatic about Parliaments decision. Posting on Facebook she wrote,

“Thankyou Thompson Haroquave, the Minister for Environment and also the NEC who approved Thompson’s submission and all MPs who voted in Parliament today. Thank you for caring about the people’s land and their survival into the future.”

As the news filtered through social networking site Facebook, many pundits expressed satisfaction with Parliaments decision and praised the O’Neil-Namah Government for putting the interests of the people first. Of course some were cynical of this move and commented that it was the same MPs who voted in the amendments at the first place. However those views were quickly rebutted by others who said that the MPs were bound by sections of the Organic Law on Political Parties, to vote with former Prime Minister Somare. Now that those sections of Law have been seemed unconstitutional, MPs can vote freely and yesterday they expressed that freedom by repealing the Somare/Chinese amendments.

Meanwhile, text messages were been sent to the people along the Madang coastline from Basamuk to Bogia, informing them of this latest development in their FIGHT against the Chinese miner. Many expressed satisfaction with the ONeil-Namah Government for its bold decision.

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O’Neill-Namah government repeals Env Act amendments

Alexander Rheeney

Parliament-elected Prime Minister Peter O’Neill continues to up his popularity stakes when his government yesterday nullified a law which shielded resource companies from environmental damage lawsuits.

Reports from the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby indicate that the O’Neill government has revoked the 2010 amendments to PNG’s Environmental Act, which the then Somare government pushed and got parliament to pass to protect the $1.5 billion Chinese-owned Ramu nickel mine.

It is understood MP Thompson Haroquave, who is the environment minister in the O’Neill government, tabled the legislation and was able to get the parliament to vote in favour of the contentious provisions being invalidated.

However, Supreme Court-reinstated PM Sir Michael Somare has vowed to review all of the O’Neill administration’s policies and undertakings “when it gets back into office”.

The 2010 amendments by the Somare government were widely criticised and opposed by PNG landowners, who own 97 per cent of land in PNG but following the legislative changes could not sue resource companies for environmental damage.

Civil society in PNG, led by Port Moresby-based advocacy group Act NOW, campaigned against the law and collected over 18,000 signatures in an online petition. They were later joined by Mr O’Neill’s deputy and then Opposition Leader Belden Namah who said the legislation was not in the “national interest”. Another MP linked to the Somare government, Ken Fairweather, also quit and moved to the middle benches in protest against the amendments.

The revoking of the controversial law coincides with Mr O’Neill’s announcement of free public health care after a tour of the Port Moresby General Hospital, PNG’s largest government-funded public hospital. The new health policy as well as the free education policy, which the parliament-elected PM announced last August, has been welcomed by ordinary Papua New Guineans as they battle to overcome some of the region’s worst social indicators.

The amendments’ revoking comes a month after the PNG Supreme Court rejected an appeal by landowners to stop the Ramu nickel mine from dumping its waste off the coast of Madang in the north of PNG.

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Breaking news: Parliament dumps Env Act amendments

Reports coming through from Parliament House that the O’Neill government has made good on its promise to repeal the Environment Act Amendments which have been unanimously dumped.

Thompson Haroqaveh, the Environment Minister, took the legislation to Parliament today and got the Amendment Act removed.

The Amendments were bulldozed through Parliament in May 2010 by the Somare regime as a response to landholder concerns about the marine dumping of toxic waste from the Ramu nickel mine. The amendments gave the government the power to approve any activities on customary land without consulting the landholders and exempted foreign companies from any liability for environmental damage.

The amendments were drafted by Australian law firm Allens Arthur Robinson at the behest of MCC, the Chinese state owned corporation that operates the Ramu mine, and pushed through the PNG Parliament in a single afternoon by the Somare government with no prior disclosure or debate.

PNG civil society, led by the on-line campaign organisation ACT NOW!, have fought against the amendments.

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