The final draft of amendments to the National Environment Management Act (NEMA) and the Minerals Petroleum Resources Development Act were presented at a parliamentary portfolio committee meeting attended by several environmental groups on Thursday.
If passed into law, the proposals would allow the building of new dams, golf courses, building complexes and all other developments, with no meaningful criteria for environmental impact assessments (EIAs), says the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE).
"There's no benchmark for EIAs in the amendments," said FSE spokesperson Koos Pretorius.
"We're going to be far worse off than we are now.
"It's going to be a question of who can spend the most money in a court case, and that's a battle we (non-government organisations) lose every single time."
The FSE is to take legal advice on the amendments and then decide whether to fight them in court if they are passed, says Pretorius.
The current law states that developers - including companies opening new mines - "must" do the following, but the amendments state merely they "may" be done:
- Provide for public information and participation, giving all interested and affected parties an opportunity to participate.
- Investigate mitigation measures to keep negative consequences to a minimum.
- Report on gaps in knowledge.
- Plan and set up ways of monitoring and managing the impacts.
- Investigate the consequences of alternatives to the development.
Several other organisations have objected to the changes on the same grounds as the FSE. They include the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, the Botanical Society and development groups, including the Nkuzi Development Association.
The proposed changes to the law would be disastrous for the environment and vulnerable communities in mining areas, said Pretorius.
Under the amendments, NEMA would determine the criteria for all EIAs for new mines. However, the Minerals Petroleum Resources Development Act - which is also being amended - would govern how long the EIA should take.
The Minister of Minerals and Energy would be the authority in charge, approving new mines. The changes to the two laws would mean that mining EIAs, which should take 18 months to complete, would have to be finished in only 120 days, said Pretorius. Anybody
objecting to an application for a new mine would have to do so within 30 days of the minister receiving the application.
Under a normal EIA process, objections can be received after a full EIA is completed, which gives those objecting a chance to assess the consequences of the new mine.
Cape Times: Jo-Anne Smetherham