MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Aussie firm slapped P10.7M in fines for mine spills

Published by MAC on 2006-01-10

Aussie firm slapped P10.7M in fines for mine spills

by Blanche S. Rivera, Philippine Daily Inquirer

10th January 2006

THE GOVERNMENT has slapped an Australian firm operating what had been touted as the country's flagship mining project fines of at least P10.7 million for two mine spills in the island-municipality of Rapu-Rapu in Albay province last year.

The Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) has ruled that Rapu-Rapu Processing Inc. (RRPI), owned by Australian Lafayette Mining Inc., violated the Clean Water Act when it discharged waste water with a high cyanide content into creeks on Oct. 11 and 31.

The toxic waste found its way to the open sea, allegedly resulting in fish kills.

The PAB fined RRPI a total of P10.4 million because effluents from the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project site exceeded the acceptable cyanide level.

It was the biggest fine imposed on any violator since the Clean Water Act took effect in 2003. The P10.4-million fine was on top of the P300,000 paid by Lafayette for violating the provisions of its environmental compliance certificate.

The Inquirer tried to contact Rod Watt, country manager of Lafayette Philippines Inc. (LPI), but his phone was unattended.

Rogelio Corpus, general manager for operations of LPI, refused to comment on the matter, saying the company had yet to be notified about it.

"We want revitalized mining to be the flagship of the economy, but we are for responsible mining. If they can't do it, then we don't need them here. There are many responsible mining operators out there," Environment Secretary Michael T. Defensor said at a press conference yesterday.

Defensor, who had branded the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project as the "make-or-break case" for the Philippines' revitalized mining industry, said the maximum fine imposed on Lafayette was meant to prevent similar occurrences at other mining projects.

"[It] is well within the capability of the respondent (RRPI) to prevent (mine spills) should it only exercise prudence in the conduct of its business affairs," he said.

The project is said to be worth P10.4 billion.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also upheld the suspension of Lafayette's gold mining operation.

Conditions

Lafayette will be allowed to resume operations only after it had met the following conditions:

An approved environmental management system or ISO 14001 certification. . A comprehensive pollution control program, including plans and specifications of the antipollution facility. . Budget and chart of activities. . A surety bond of 25 percent of the total cost of the pollution control program. . A detailed description of the interim remedial measures to mitigate pollution pending the completion of the pollution control program. . Employment of a pollution control officer duly accredited by the DENR. . A notarized undertaking from the company showing proof of compliance with all the conditions.

Lafayette was also required to rehabilitate its settling, polishing and event ponds to ensure that they could hold mine wastes and effluents from the project before resuming operations.

"No temporary lifting order shall be considered until the company has fulfilled all the requirements," Defensor said.

Gold milling stopped

Lafayette was ordered to stop gold milling operations on Nov. 14 after a defective valve and heavy rains forced the company to discharge waste water into the creeks last October.

Lolibeth Medrano, director of the Environmental Management Bureau, said the P10.4-million fine was the accumulated maximum penalty of P200,000 a day for companies that violate the Clean Water Act.

The amount represented the fines from Oct. 11, the first mine spill, to Dec. 14, the latest sampling date before the PAB issued its decision against RRPI.

The latest sampling done by the EMB was on Jan. 6, and the team found one sampling point in Rapu-Rapu that had high cyanide levels.

"The P10.4 million is just the initial fine. We will continue to fine them until they have complied with the EMB standards," Medrano said.

The EMB, however, is still computing the additional fines from Dec. 15 to Jan. 6.

The DENR is one of the lead agencies tasked with promoting mining as the backbone of the Arroyo administration's economic program.

Environmentalists and the European Commission have noted the conflicting mandate of the agency, which is also supposed to ensure resources conservation.

With a report from Gil Francis G. Arevalo, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

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