No new open-pit mining in forests: Govt

The government said Thursday it would not license new mining companies to operate open-pit mining systems in protected forests.

“There will be no more open-pit mining permits in protected forests other than the 13 already-licensed firms,” Yetti Rusli of the Forestry Ministry said.

 She made the statement in response to growing fears from environmental activists a new regulation requiring forest exploitation fees would encourage more mining firms to dig up forests, including protected ones.  “The collection of fees is not intended for renting forest lands. It is only a little part of the responsibilities that the operating mining firm must fulfill.  “They still have to pay royalties to the government,” Yetti said.  She said the non-tax revenues generated from the new regulation would be used to support the government’s reforestation program.  The regulation, which took effect Feb. 8, say non-forestry firms operating in forests must pay fees of between Rp 1.2 and Rp 3 million per hectare per year.  Companies involved in mining, oil and gas exploration, radio and television transmissions, telecommunication networks, electricity and water installations and turnpike infrastructure are among the main targets of the regulation.  The regulation says open-pit mining activities in protected areas are subject to the highest charge of Rp 3 million per hectare per year.  “But that is only for the 13 companies that have been allowed to carry out open-pit mining in protected areas,” Yetti said.  Protected forests are supposed to be free from any exploitation or exploration activities for commercial purposes, but the 13 firms were given an exemption in 2004 under a government regulation.  The government said the 13 firms were allowed to operate in protected forests because they were there before the forests were declared protected.  These companies include PT Aneka Tambang, PT Inco, PT Freeport McMoran Indonesia, PT Nusa Halmahera, PT Nataran Mining and PT Indominco Mandiri. Most operate in eastern parts of the country.  Yetti said the government had only issued “principal permits” to three of the 13 mining firms.  “Therefore, none of the mining companies has started operations in protected forests,” she said.  The Forestry Ministry said it expected to gain non-tax revenue of around Rp 600 billion this year from the new regulation.  Data from the ministry shows there are currently 334 non-forestry businesses operating in 293,556 hectares of forests.  “We are still examining 586 proposals for licenses, including from mining companies,” said Bowo Heru Satmoko, the head of the ministry’s licensing division.  Environmental group Greenomics Indonesia said the additional revenue from forest exploitation would be insignificant to the state.  The group’s executive director, Elfian Effendy, said the potential revenue was just Rp 2.78 trillion per annum, far lower than potential state losses of Rp 70 trillion per year due to open-pit mining in protected forests.  He demanded the government increase the new fee to US$16,000 per hectare per year for each of the 13 companies.  This would cost the 13 companies a total of Rp 140.6 trillion per year, he said. Source: The Jakarta Post

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