Cabinet approves plan to overhaul mining law

05/19/2022 10:30 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, May 19 (CNA) The Executive Yuan on Thursday approved a proposal to drastically amend the Mining Act, making the approval of local Indigenous people and environmental impact assessments mandatory for companies that wish to apply for a new permit or continue their existing mining activities.

The Cabinet greenlit the draft amendment to the Mining Act proposed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) in light of heightened awareness of Indigenous people's rights and environmental protection, Hsu Ming-hung (徐銘宏), a senior official at MOEA's Bureau of Mines, said at a press conference Thursday.

The proposed draft amendment will be sent to the Legislature for review, with MOEA Deputy Minister Lin Chuan-neng (林全能) pledging at the press conference that the ministry will work closely with lawmakers to facilitate the legislative process.

The proposed amendments would require mining companies to obtain the consent of local Indigenous people before starting any new projects on what is designated Indigenous land, Hsu said, adding that the revision will bring the law into line with the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law.

Under the amendment bill, mining firms that have previously acquired a permit to mine on Indigenous land without the approval of nearby Indigenous residents will be given one year to conduct negotiations with the local Indigenous community and seek their consent, Hsu noted.

During this period, the companies will be allowed to proceed with mining operations, but if they do not obtain the approval of the Indigenous community after one year, they will be ordered to suspend operations, Hsu said.

If suspension continues for some time, such companies will risk having their mining permit revoked, Hsu said, while declining to detail the length of time involved.

As of February 2022, there were 141 mining sites in Taiwan, according to Bureau of Mines data.

Environmental groups have identified most of these mining sites to be located in Hualien County, and noted that a majority are on Indigenous land.

Meanwhile, the proposed amendments would order companies that acquired their mining permit before 1995 without conducting an environmental impact assessment because of a lack of legal provisions at that time, to conduct an assessment within three to five years, depending on the scale of their mining sites and operations, Hsu said.

Companies that fail to conduct an assessment or make improvements according to the result of such an assessment during the required period will face the revocation of their mining permit, Hsu added.

In addition, the draft amendment also seeks to remove what has been described by environment groups as "unfair" provisions, including those that entitle mining companies to claim damages from the government if their application for a mining permit extension is denied.

Taiwan last made major amendments to the Mining Act in 2003, but the revisions had been criticized by environmental groups as serving the interests of the mining industry.

Calls for an amendment to the law garnered huge support in 2017 following the controversy surrounding Asia Cement Corp. (ACC) being awarded an extension of its mining rights for another two decades on Indigenous land in Hualien County.

Later the same year, the Cabinet approved an MOEA proposal to amend the Mining Act which was sent to the Legislature for review, but lawmakers failed to pass it in part due to a lack of consensus on the issue.

During Thursday's press conference, Cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) cited Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) as saying that the draft amendment will better protect the rights of Indigenous people living near mining sites.

Su also noted that the bill will provide strengthened environmental protection mechanisms in the hope of reducing the impact of mining activities on the environment and neighboring communities, according to Lo.

Speaking to CNA Thursday, Aries Huang (黃靖庭), a senior campaigner at the Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan (CET), urged lawmakers to start discussions on the proposed draft amendment as soon as possible.

Huang praised the fact the proposed amendment mandates the approval of local Indigenous people as a prerequisite for companies that wish to obtain a new mining permit or preserve their existing mining rights.

However, she called on the government, in particular the Council of Indigenous Peoples, to take appropriate measures to ensure Indigenous communities are able to negotiate with mining companies on equal terms in the future.

Meanwhile, ACC and Taiwan Cement Corp., two large mining companies with operations mainly in Hualien, said they would abide by the law following the passing of the proposed draft amendment.

(By Chang Chi and Teng Pei-ju)

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