We can’t properly manage the environmental impact of mines if there isn’t one management system that regulates all the licenses, authorizations, financial requirements and environmental impact assessments. The South African government commenced the rollout of the much-anticipated One Environmental System late last year.
The most notable shift under the new system is the transition of the regulation of the environmental management of mining operations from the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) to the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
This system will result in far greater integration of environmental regulation needed for mining.
Under the new system, the Minister of Mineral Resources will be responsible for issuing environmental authorisations (EAs) and waste management licenses (WMLs). These authorisations can be appealed at the Minister of Environmental Affairs.
Ministers have agreed to fixed timeframes for processing and issuing environmental authorisations, waste management licenses, water use licenses (WULs) and other environmental consents within their respective competencies. The ministers have committed to synchronising the processes, to ensure all environmental consents are issued within a 300-day period.
The Minister of Mineral Resources will be authorised to appoint Environmental Mineral Resource Inspectors, who will have the same power as Environmental Management Inspectors under National Environmental Management Act to enforce environmental legislation at mines.
New Environmental Impact Assessment regulations
The new Environmental Impact Assessment regulations took effect on 8 December 2014, replacing the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations published on 1 August 2010.
Under the new regulations, mineral right holders are required to obtain environmental authorisations for the commencement and decommissioning of activities.
To ensure the environmental authorisations are issued within the timeframes in the One Environmental System, the timeframe of applications will be shorter. All authorization consents will now be coordinated and audits of compliance will be stricter.
Exemption procedures have also been renewed and the regulations for applying for exemption will be much more complicated than in the past.
Stricter financial provision requirements
Under the One Environmental System, NEMA will be in charge of the requirements for financial provision for the environmental impacts of mining operations. These will be more detailed and onerous than in the past under MPRDA.
Failure to comply with these regulations would result in a fine of R10 million under NEMA.
Care and maintenance of mining operations and deemed closure of mines is not currently regulated under the MPRDA, but will be under NEMA. A mine can be deemed to be under closure by the Department of Mineral Resources in specified (and far reaching) circumstances.
Under the proposed regulations, mineral rights holders will have to apply to the Minister of Mineral Resources to be placed under care and maintenance, which may not exceed a specified period.
Environmental risks assessments & annual rehabilitation
The Draft Financial Provision and Closure Regulations have more onerous and detailed regulations regarding financial provisions, rehabilitation and the required reports than those previously in the MPRDA.
For mining and prospecting rights, the methods of acceptable payment have been limited. Environmental risks assessments and annual rehabilitation plans would be required, with prescribed contents, and must be audited annually.
The annual review will involve a specialist team, which must include a mining engineer, a surveyor, and an environmental assessment practitioner and audited by an independent auditor. Only one extension is allowed for submission of the review and audit for a prescribed period.
Specified time periods are also included for an increase of the financial provision. If the holder is unable to cover any shortfall, the Minister can agree to enter a payment agreement (that must be less than five years).
Proposed regulation of residue stockpiles & deposits
There are only a few provisions in the MPRDA Regulations dealing with the management of residue stockpiles and deposits.
Proposed regulations regarding the Planning and Management of Residue Stockpiles and Residue Deposits from a Prospecting, Mining, Exploration or Production Operation were published for public comment on 14 November 2014. They have detailed provisions on the management of residue stockpiles and deposits including:
- assessment of their impacts
- analysis of the risks relating to their management
- their characterisation and classification to identify any potential risks to health, safety and the environment
- site selection and designs
- duties of mining rights holders regarding construction and operation; designs; water monitoring; preventative or remedial environmental measures; dust pollution and erosion; rehabilitation; maintenance and repair; monitoring and reporting; decommissioning, closure and post closure management.
It is unclear when these regulations will be enacted into law, but we are very happy that the transition toward better-managed mining regulations will be much more considerate of the impact that mining activities have on the environment.
By Adél Groenewald