December 4, 2017

Minister cracks down on Freeport for environmental violations

( - Results of ground inspections (21-28 Sep) carried out by the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry in Freeport concessions in Papua’s Mimika regency have revealed that the powerful US corporation has been engaging in bad environmental practices.

In fact, Freeport has committed a significant number of environmental violations in its operations which has led to the imposition of strict sanctions on the company by President Joko Widodo’s administration.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya issued severe administrative sanctions against PT Freeport Indonesia (Oct 23) to force the Arizona-headquartered company into legal compliance in its operations by putting a stop to the environmental violations it has been perpetrating.

“Freeport has been proven to have committed six categories of environmental violations, encompassing 48 separate items of violation. I have reported this to the President and he gave a clear order saying that Freeport must meet the terms of legal compliance,” Minister Siti Nurbaya explained to (Dec 3) at the ministry building.

The minister said that the environmental violations committed by Freeport were legally intolerable. She went on to cite the fact that Freeport is engaged in 12 activities for which it does not have the proper environmental permits, including the construction of 19 kilometers of illegal embankments to contain tailing.

The first photograph below, taken during the ministry’s ground inspections (21-28 Sep), shows the tailing path from upstream, while the next three photographs depict the illegal embankments built by Freeport to contain the tailing, for which the company does not have an environmental permit.

Inconsistent with EIA document

Not only is Freeport missing numerous environmental permits for its operations, but several of its activities also fail to comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document.

“There are seven activities involved in Freeport’s operations that do not adhere to the EIA document. For example, Freeport is doing open-pit mining in Grasberg on a scale in excess of that stipulated in the EIA document,” the minister explained.   

Furthermore, she pointed out, Freeport’s operations also include three underground mining activities that contravene the EIA, most notably by adding to its mining capacity.   

Minister Siti Nurbaya elaborated further, saying that Freeport has failed to carry out environmental management and monitoring efforts, especially in terms of the storage and handling of tailings.

The following photographs demonstrate areas of tailing sedimentation as a result of Freeport’s operations, which are counted among the US company’s environmental violations.

Water, waste and air violations

Freeport has also been found to have committed five environmental violations linked to its water pollution control efforts.

“Freeport has been negligent when it comes to waste management from its open-pit mining operations,” the minister chided.

She also divulged that the emissions resulting from Freeport operations exceed the permitted legal limit, by committing five items of violation. In addition, Freeport's operations have been proven to have committed seven environmental violation items in the management of hazardous and toxic waste. 

Strict orders

The sanctions imposed on Freeport by the Environment and Forestry Minister include six instructions compelling the giant US corporation to end all of its environmental violations.

Freeport has been given a strict timeframe of between 3 and 180 working days, depending on the environmental violation items they commit, to get back on track and start to comply legally. 

In wrapping up her conversation with, Minister Siti Nurbaya stressed that if Freeport still fails to comply beyond the deadline given to it, it will face even tougher sanctions in accordance with the prevailing regulations.

Considering the strict environmental sanctions imposed on Freeport by the Indonesian government, the claim made in the company's environmental policy that its operations “will comply in all material respects with applicable environmental laws and regulations” is rendered irrelevant.