MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Team checks Freeport pollution claims

Published by MAC on 2006-05-06

Team checks Freeport pollution claims

By Tb. Arie Rukmantara, Jakarta (The Jakarta Post)

6th May 2006

A team of eight legislators arrived in Papua on Friday for a three-day visit to Freeport's mine in Timika to gather data about the company's environmental management after new allegations of pollution in the area came to light this week. Team leader and House of Representatives working committee secretary on Freeport Catur Sapto Edy said the lawmakers were visiting the Grasberg mine, a joint venture of US-based Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc. and Australian Rio Tinto Ltd.

The team is accompanied by a geologist, a mining expert and an environmental scientist, all from the government's Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT). It planned to examine allegations by environmental groups that the company had degraded the environment, Catur told The Jakarta Post.

In audit reports released to the public by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) on Wednesday, Walhi alleges Freeport operations have caused widespread environmental damage in the area, which was greater than the government had initially reported. It said the mine had dumped about a billion tons of tailings in its concession area, which were polluting forests and river systems with heavy metals such as copper and arsenic.

The pollution was also affecting ground water in the neighboring town of Timika, and was putting life in the adjacent Lorentz National Park at risk, it said.

"Site checks will be conducted by taking samples all over the area, from the mountain down to the sea," Catur said. He said the team hoped to find out the "truth" about the company's operations by verifying operational documents it had received from the government and Freeport.

The lawmakers, he said, were seeking to obtain the correct concentrations of minerals deposited in the Grasberg area along with data on total gold and copper extractions since the mine began operations.

Freeport has been operating in Timika since 1972, under a working contract signed by the government in 1967 and extended in 1991. Under the latest agreement, the company has the right to extract minerals until 2041. At present, Freeport processes about 235,000 metric tons of ore a day. The company's operations cover two million hectares of land in Papua, with a concession area that stretches from an altitude of over 4,200 meters above sea level down to the Arafura coast.

atur said the team would also meet Papua legislative council leaders, NGOs and seven tribal communities living near the mine site to find out about the effectiveness of the company's community development programs. He said the results of the visit would be used to formulate recommendations for the government. The team would likely push the government to review its working contract with the company.

"We aim to push the government to be braver and to demand a bigger share of the revenue from Freeport because (the company) has been using our land and our workers for decades," he said. Catur said the government owned 9 percent of PT Freeport Indonesia.

When they visited the company last week, Freeport management had told House Speaker Agung Laksono and his two deputies the company was willing to review the working contract with the government, Catur said.

Freeport spokesperson Sidharta Mursjid confirmed Agung's visit but would not confirm whether his company had agreed to review the working contract.

"A revision to the working contract can only be carried out based on the agreement of both parties. We can only say that we will work together with the government to find what's best for all of us," Sidharta said.

The company welcomed the lawmakers' visit and would fully cooperate with them, he said. State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar said he was also in favor of the visit, which did not represent a implicit criticism of his ministry's data-gathering ability. "We welcome all additional information that will enrich our knowledge," he told the Post.

Walhi's Chalid Muhammad said he hoped the visit would reveal the core problems of the Freeport operation. He called on the lawmakers to do their utmost to expose any environmental damage in the area. "I truly hope the team members will not be distracted by other 'interests', be they political or financial," he said.

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