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Gov urged to reject coal mining permits

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 11/12/2009 12:55 PM | Headlines

Forest experts and activists have warned the Forestry Ministry against approving permits for coal mining in the Meratus protected forest in South Kalimantan, arguing that it could cause a water crisis in the province.

Nine regents in the province have granted principal permits to 229 mining companies allowing them to mine the huge deposit of coal in the 200,000-hectare protected forest.

However, mining companies must first seek approval from the Forestry Ministry before they can start their explorations.

Udiansyah, a forest expert from Lambung Mangkurat University in Banjarmasin, said the government had to reject the mining companies' requests, claiming the companies would use open-cut mining techniques, which are banned under the 1999 Forest Law

He said that most of the 229 mining companies were small-scale mining firms that would operate in less than 5,000 hectares.

State Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta, also from Lambung Mangkurat University, previously urged the Forestry Ministry not to issue new permits for any mining activities in Meratus or other protected forests on the island.

South Kalimantan contributes about 16 percent to the country's total coal production.

Coal mining, however, only contributed about five percent to the province's Rp 1.8 trillion budget in 2008, said Udiansyah.

Coordinator of Mining Networks (Jatam) in East Kalimantan, Kahar Al Bahri, said the coal mining had become a profitable business in Kalimantan because under the regional autonomy, regional heads had intensively sold coal mining permits in a bid to improve their annual revenue and generate jobs to help cope with unemployment.

"Selling permits are an emerging business for regents in Kalimantan," he said.

East Kalimantan only has 19.8 million hectares of land, but regional chiefs have granted permits, mainly to mining and plantation companies in about 21.7 million hectares.

"There are many overlapping permits in East Kalimantan," he said.

East Kalimantan produced about 116 million tons of coal per year, of which 82 percent was exported to 30 countries, including Japan, China and South Korea.

"And only 1 percent of that coal was used in East Kalimantan, making electricity blackouts a daily occurrence in the province," he said.

Jatam is currently researching the environmental impacts of mining activities in Kutai Barat, Kutai Kertanegara, Kutai Timur, Paser and Samarinda.

Udiansyah urged the government to review tax regulations on coal mining to reduce the level of coal exploitation and help protect the environment.

"The government needs to increase the royalties on coal mining to slow down mining activities," he said.

The government currently receives 13.5 percent in royalties.

Udiansyah also proposed imposing higher taxes to provide financial assistance to empower locals and to improve their social welfare.

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