Court orders Mining Minister to decide appeals against mining in environmentally important and sensitive area
19 April 2017 at 3:23 pm
On Tuesday, 18 April 2017, in court proceedings brought by two civil society organisations represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, the Pretoria High Court granted an order compelling the Minister of Mineral Resources to make a decision on two appeals lodged by the civil society organisations against the Department of Mineral Resources’ grant of a mining right.
The mining right in question authorises a coal mine in an environmentally important and sensitive area adjacent to a declared Protected Environment and Strategic Water Source Area in Mpumalanga.
BirdLife SA and the Escarpment Environment Protection Group (EEPOG) appealed the grant of the mining right to mining company William Patrick Bower (Pty) Ltd as long ago as 2013, but successive Ministers of Mineral Resources have failed to decide the appeals.
The area surrounding the proposed mining area was declared a protected environment, called the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment, under the Protected Areas Act on 7 April 2017. The declaration by the Mpumalanga MEC for the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs was made inter alia to “protect the area due to its biological natural characteristics, scenic and landscape value and the provision of environmental goods and services; to ensure that the use of natural resources in the area is sustainable; and to protect a specific ecosystem”.
The proposed mining area is also adjacent to the Mpumalanga Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area, as determined by the South African National Biodiversity Institute as part of the Departments of Water & Sanitation and Environmental Affairs’ National Freshwater Ecosystem Project.
Strategic Water Source Areas are the 8% of South Africa’s land area that provide 50% of our surface water run-off. Accordingly, they are critical for South Africa’s water supply and security, particularly in the context of the current drought conditions in South Africa and South Africa’s status as a water scarce country that is particularly vulnerable to climate change.
The High Court ordered the Minister to decide the two organisations’ appeals within 30 days, failing which the appeals will be deemed to be refused, which will then allow BirdLife SA and EEPOG to continue the judicial review proceedings to pursue the setting aside of the mining right. The court also granted a punitive costs order against the Minister.
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