Posted by: Hendra Siry | 5 February, 2010

Kalimantan Seen as Perfect Test Case for New Green Law

Article by Fidelis E Satriastanti

Source: The Jakarta Globe – January 27, 2010

It’s the all too familiar good news-bad news story for the country’s environment. The good news is the law to take down those involved in the destruction of the environment is in place and ready for action. The bad news is that the government does not seem particularly eager to use it. “We don’t want the law to turn into another paper tiger,” said Asep Warlan Yusuf, an environmental law expert at Bandung’s Parahyangan University. “It’s high time the government took some real action against environment offenders.”

The State Ministry for the Environment, Asep said, “lacks the courage to fight the good fight by taking environmental cases to court.” The Environmental Protection and Management Law became effective on Oct. 3, 2009. Siti Maimunah, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), said the government should immediately begin putting the law to work in Kalimantan, where the environment is in full retreat in the face of massive mining operations and the spread of palm oil plantations.

“You want this law to work, you start with Kalimantan,” she said. “This would be a real test because the Kalimantan case is very urgent.” Siti said Kalimantan for years had been the scene of unchecked exploitation, as large companies dug up its coal and minerals, cut down its forests and created massive palm oil plantations. Siti said local administrations in Kalimantan had tried to contain the destruction with spatial planning, which she described as little more than a “suicide plan.” “Kalimantan is staring at its own destruction because the development planning [of the various government departments] is a mess that concentrates on exploitation,” she said. Kalimantan, she said, seems to have implemented “mismanagement planning.”

“Look at Samarinda [the capital of East Kalimantan],” she said. “The local government has been forced to spend billions of rupiah to build a canal to prevent massive floods caused by the coal industries surrounding the city.” East Kalimantan is home to 1,212 coal mining operations, permits for which were issued by local administrations as authorized under the Regional Autonomy Law. There are an additional 32 permits issued by the central government. In neighboring South Kalimantan, there are around 400 mining operations.

Many of these permits, however, are allegedly being misused due to a lack of control and kickbacks, which has allowed miners to open sites in conservation areas or nature reserves. Reclamation or rehabilitation of the exploited sites is almost nonexistent. On Monday, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan threatened to revoke the permits of mining companies operating in Kalimantan conservation areas.

“[We] will check those mining operations this week and if there are any violations, we will not hesitate to review their permits and urge them to rehabilitate the areas,” Zulkifli said. The minister was responding to a report in a national newspaper that around 200 mining concessionaires are operating in conservation areas in South Kalimantan Environmental law expert Mas Achmad Santosa lauded the new law, but said the government needed to make immediate use of it to go after companies damaging the environment. “This law should help resolve the longstanding problem of departmental egoism,” Santosa said. “Although this law is perceived to be solely the province of the State Ministry for the Environment, in fact, it can be used by other [government departments], such as the mining and forestry [ministries].”

“[The other ministries] don’t need further education or information on the law, they should be able to jump right in. However, the State Ministry for the Environment should be the one to make the breakthrough.” Santosa said the new law no longer dealt only with “brown issues,” that is only toxic chemical pollution, but had been expanded to deal with “green issues” linked to forestry and other sectors. “Compared to other laws this is a strong one, especially for Kalimantan because it defines corporate crimes, introduces a more integrated monitoring system through clauses in the operation permits and even has a back-up control from the district to the central level [of the government],” he said.

Asked to comment on demands by activists that the law be deployed immediately, State Minister for the Environment Gusti Muhammad Hatta said he had already instructed his staff to carry out an inventory of the mining activities in Kalimantan and to compose a government regulation to accompany the new law. “[The mining operators] will be punished according to their level of non-compliance, and not all of the cases will be settled in court,” he said on Wednesday.

In another development, a number of green groups, including Jatam and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), have filed a suit against the State Ministry for the Environment at the Jakarta Administrative Court concerning the ministry’s environmental assessment of two major mining companies in Sulawesi, PT Meares Soputan Mining and PT Tambang Tondano Nusajaya.

Eight villagers, representatives of residents in North Minahasa district, North Sulawesi, claim the ministry’s decision to allow the companies to operate was a violation of regional environmental regulations. The villagers say that the companies’ operations will hurt the environment.


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