New mining bill removes environmental protections: expert

Despite opposition from environmental activists and civil society groups, the junta’s lawmakers could soon pass a new Mining Bill to ease environmental regulations for mining businesses.

On 1 December 2016, the National Legislative Assembly will consider the new Mining Bill, which was proposed by the Ministry of Industry to replace the 1967 Mining Act and the 1966 Mineral Royalty Rate Act.

The bill had been put on fast track by the junta’s cabinet but has received stiff disapproval from academics and environmental activists.

Last month, some 70 people from various provinces where mining industries operate submitted a petition to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, to call for the immediate withdrawal of the Mining Bill. They also demanded the junta leader not issue new mining concessions to mining companies.

According to Lerdsak Kamkongsak, an environmental activist and researcher based in the northeast, several articles of the Mining Bill make it clear that the bill aims to raise the profit margins for shareholders as quickly and as much as possible, regardless of environmental and social costs.

Under Article 132 of the bill, the Department of Primary Industries and Mines (DPIM) can conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on areas with mineral resources without participation from local communities, Lerdsak pointed out.  

“The Industry Ministry and DPIM are supposed to act as regulators, but they are monopolising the entire process of granting mining concessions and conducting the EIA,” said the activist.

The period of time for the state to approve mining concessions would also be shortened from approximately 310 days as under the procedures of the 1967 Mining Act to only 100-150 days. Moreover, the EIA and Environmental Health Impact Assessment do not need to be conducted before the concession is granted.

Mining businesses may also no longer be prevented from using previously protected forest lands for mining activities, civil society groups stated.

According to the Assembly of NGOs for the Protection and Conservation of Environment and Natural Resources, this is due to the bill’s removal of the phrase “important forest watersheds” from Article 80 of the 1967 Mining Bill.