Thursday, 28 January 2010

Go to town with the new law: Experts

Go to town with the new law: Experts

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 01/27/2010

Experts have backed the government's pledge to flex some legal muscle on polluting mining firms, under the umbrella of the more stringent 2009 Environment Law. The most vocal call came Tuesday from Padjadjaran University environmental law expert Asep Warlan.

"The 2009 Environment Law will be more effective in stamping out environmental violations than the forestry law, as in the case of mining firms in Kalimantan," he said.

The new law applies multiple punishments for individual violator, from revocation of licenses to prison sentences of at least three years.

The State Environment Ministry and the Forestry Ministry on Monday threatened to revoke the business permits of polluting mining firms in Kalimantan.

The environment ministry said it would begin cracking down by enforcing a stipulation in the 2009 Environment Law that mining companies possess valid environmental impact analysis (Amdal) documents.

The new law renders more power to the ministry, including allowing it to revoke business permits.

For his part, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has promised to use the 1999 Forestry Law to revoke permits of mining firms that fail to reclaim their tailings.

Zulkifli said his ministry would only take action against mining companies operating in forest areas.

Authorities in Kalimantan, home to the country's richest coal deposits, have long been under pressure to better regulate the lucrative and often overlapping licenses awarded to companies to mine the coal.

Activists have blamed the mining companies for massive environmental damage that has caused more frequent and severe natural disasters such as floods and landslides.

Asep said the forestry law had so far had a negligible impact for the better, failing to significantly stamp out illegal logging or forest fires.

Of the 597 people jailed for illegal logging in 2006 and 2007, 326 were sentenced to less than a year, while 128 served between 12 and 24 months, data from the ministry shows.

Asep said 76 percent of those jailed in such cases were low-ranking workers such as company drivers, and not the higher-ups.

Indonesia is among the world's largest forest countries, boasting 120 million hectares of rainforest.

However, it also has the second-highest deforestation rate, with more than 1 million hectares cleared every year, mostly through illegal logging.

Forest fires, for the most part set deliberately to clear land, are also common during the dry season, and have made Indonesia the world's third-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Asep called on the environment ministry to take the lead in stemming the widespread environmental rape of Kalimantan.

Article 98 of the 2009 Environment Law stipulates that anyone responsible for causing air and water pollution in excess of tolerable levels could face at least three years in prison and/or fines of between Rp 3 billion and Rp 10 billion.

The law also empowers the ministry's civilian investigators to arrest violators.

Achmad Santosa, from the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), lauded the increased powers for the ministry.

"It's time for environment minister *Gusti Muhammad Hatta* to enforce the law," he said.

"It gives him sweeping powers to protect the environment."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will train 100 judges in environmental law, to deal with the cases.