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Miners now have open slather in PNG

THE PNG GOVERNMENT has upset conservationists, landowners and parliamentarians after amending environmental laws that make it harder to prosecute mining projects that damage the environment.

The changes mean landowners lose the right to sue for negligence.

“If the miners did in PNG what BP has done in the Gulf of Mexico, they could escape liability for damaging the environment,” says Tiffany Nonggorr, a lawyer representing 1,000 landowners, including those opposed to China Metallurgical Group’s US$1.4 billion Ramu nickel mine.

Coastal landowners are particularly worried about the impact on marine life from waste the Ramu mine will dump into the ocean.

Powes Parkop, PNG parliamentarian, lawyer and conservation advocate, says the government had given itself “almost absolute power” to grant environment permits and assess the standards required of permit holders.

At the same time it has removed the legal rights of landowners to challenge decisions.

Parkop says that once permits are granted, miners can carry out their work with impunity.

“How can we pass a law that takes away our rights and powers [and] at the same time vest powers on developers?” he asked in a letter to Benny Allan, PNG’s environment and conservation minister.

PNG is one of few countries in the Pacific with substantial natural resources, including gold, copper, nickel, oil and gas.

The reserves have attracted interest from China, US, UK and Australia but the development has been hampered by rugged terrain, lack of infrastructure, corruption and disputes with landowners.

Nonggorr says CMG lobbied hard for the government to amend the environmental laws. But she states the battle is not over.

Bertha Somare, a government media advisor and daughter of Sir Michael Somare, says landowners’ rights have not been removed because they can still raise their objections with the authorities.

She said the Ramu nickel mine had met the country’s statutory requirements and there was “no known” environmental impact from mine waste.

Source: ‘Landowners slam PNG for amending environment law’, Financial Times, 23 June 2010

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