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Media Release: Comment by the CER on the Minister of Mineral Resources’ statement on changes to the minerals rights application system, 7 February 2011

7 February 2011 at 1:29 pm

The Centre for Environmental Rights welcomes the Minister of Mineral Resources’ statement that no prospecting or mining rights applications will be granted by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) in ecologically sensitive areas, and we welcome efforts to ensure early identification of ecologically sensitive areas by the DMR when receiving rights applications.

However, the Minister has stopped short of saying that applications in ecologically sensitive areas will not be accepted by the Department. Currently, mining companies, government departments, non-government organisations and communities waste many months (sometimes years) and significant financial investment on environmental impact assessments in prospecting and mining rights applications that should never be successful. Ideally, these applications should not be accepted for processing by the DMR at all – a problem that will be addressed by the declaration under s.49 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA) proposed by NGOs last week (see below).

Secondly, the Minister has not yet stated how “ecologically sensitive areas” will be determined. Last week, thirteen NGOs made a submission to the Minister requesting her to exercise her discretion under s.49 of the MPRDA to declare areas of critical biodiversity and hydrological sensitivity and value as off-limits from prospecting and mining altogether. These areas have already been defined and demarcated through many years of scientific research and consultation by various government and other agencies, most notably the South African Biodiversity Institute. We look forward to a positive response by the Minister on this submission, and would welcome engagement with the DMR on this proposal.

Thirdly, many of our concerns about the inadequacy of the current environmental regulatory system for mining remain unaddressed. In the application to the Minister, we have made proposals for the imposition of procedural restrictions aimed at improving the quality and rigour of EIAs for mining in a list of environmentally sensitive areas (areas that are sensitive, but should not currently be subject to a prohibition on prospecting and mining). However, as we have done many times before, we continue to call on the Minister to bring into effect the MPRDA Amendment Act of 2008 (Act 49 of 2008) which will finally make the EIA system under the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 applicable to mines just like all other industries. Many of the difficulties with the current EIA process that forms part of the rights application system under the MPRDA will be addressed when the MPRDA Amendment Act is brought into effect.

We also continue to call for increased compliance monitoring and enforcement of prospecting and mining licences, particularly in relation to water and waste management, dust control, tailings dams maintenance and rehabilitation. Until these activities, already required by law, become part of the cost of doing business in the mining industry in South Africa, we are not achieving the sustainable development of our mineral resources required by the MPRDA.

For more information, visit http://cer.org.za/virtual-library/letters/prohibitions-and-restrictions-on-prospecting-and-mining-in-environmentally-sensitive-areas-in-terms-of-s-49-of-the-mprda/

For previous comment on the MPRDA Amendment Act, 2008, see: “Act will provide final solution to mining regulation overlap, opinion piece in Business Report, 3 December 2010 available at http://cer.org.za/about/media/

Quotes attributed to, and further queries to, Melissa Fourie, Executive Director, [email protected], 021 447 1647 or 072 306 8888.