Philippines Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has continued her months-long crackdown on the country’s mining industry by issuing an order to ban the open pit mining method for copper, gold, silver and complex ores. The order will only apply to prospective mines and will not include existing open pit operations.
“As a matter of policy, which is my prerogative as DENR secretary, we’re banning open-pit mining, prospective, for the following reason: that pit is gonna be there forever and a day, eternally,” she told a media briefing.
“Open-pit mining is too much of a risk. I have the mandate to evaluate and I have the duty to put a stop to it. Each open pit is a financial liability for government for life. It kills the economic potential of the place.”
The ban comes just days before the committed environmentalist faces a confirmation hearing in Congress that could lead to her removal as minister after a storm of complaints from pro-mining groups.
Gina Lopez, who has already ordered the closure of more than half the country’s operating mines and has previously described open pit mines as ‘madness’.
She stated that open pits have ended up as perpetual liabilities, causing adverse impacts to the environment, particularly due to the generation of acidic and heavy metal-laden water, erosion of mine waste dumps and vulnerability of tailings dams to geological hazards.
She added that records showed that most of the mining disasters in the country were due to tailings spills associated with open pit mining.
She said there were currently 14 open pits in the country, 10 of them abandoned. The DENR will issue show cause orders to projects that are under the exploration stage while those under application will no longer be approved.
The ban would put another nail in the coffin of the country’s biggest stalled mining venture, the $5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato province on Mindanao, which failed to advance after the local province banned open-pit mining in 2010, prompting commodities giant Glencore to quit the project in 2015. Gina Lopez has said the project would cover an area the size of 700 football fields in what otherwise would be agricultural land.
Another major prospective open pit mine is the +$2-billion Pangilinan-led Silangan mine in Surigao del Norte.
In February she ordered the permanent closure of 22 of 41 operating mines in the world’s top nickel ore supplier and later cancelled dozens of contracts for undeveloped mines to protect water resources.
Miners have argued her actions are illegal and no mine has yet been closed as companies pursue an appeals process that can only be settled by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines described her latest move as ‘absurd’ and that the law actually allows open pit mining. “With this open-pit ban, she is essentially banning the mining of shallow ore deposits that can only be extracted using open-pit mining,” said Legal and Policy vice president Ronald Recidoro.
“While the DENR does have the power to regulate mining, they have to do it within the ambit of the Constitution and the law. Lopez cannot add or deduct from the law by herself. It needs amending legislation from Congress.”