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Mining sector leads environment commitment

MINERS are spending a greater portion of their income on the environment than any other industry sector, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics report on environmental issues.

In 1996-97 the mining industry spent $370 million on environmental protection, equating to 1.07 per cent of the industry’s $34 billion turnover.

The greatest portion of spending in the resource sector was on mine site rehabilitation.

In 1998-99, spending on mine site rehabilitation totalled $275 million.

Service industries were least likely to spend on the environment, putting aside just 0.15 per cent of their turnover for environmental protection.

The agricultural sector, a major contributor to environmental degrad-ation, spent just 0.71 per cent, as did the utilities sector, spending $192 million and $171 million respectively on the environment.

While miners are heavily regulated, the industry is also taking steps of its own to address environmental management.

An Australian Minerals Industry Code for Environmental Management has been developed by the Minerals Council of Australia to foster increased awareness of environmental and social issues.

The code is a voluntary commitment to a range of environmental manage-ment principles, including the produc-tion of public reports outlining the implementation of the code.

About 40 companies, including Rio Tinto, BHP and Sons of Gwalia, are signatories to the revised 2000 Code.

Signatories commit to seven principles, including: engaging the community through open dialogue with employees and the community; adopting a proactive and cautious approach to environmental risks throughout the life of each operation; developing contingency plans to address any residual risks; encouraging responsible production and use of their products; continually seeking ways to improve the environmental perform-ance through monitoring and benchmarking; and communicating the company’s environmental performance through annual reports.

Each year, in consultation with the External Environmental Advisory Group, the Code secretariat makes an industry-wide analysis of performance against Code prin-ciples.

The Minerals Council does not require companies to meet a minimum level of environmental standards before becoming signa-tories. The Code is simply a guide for companies to help their environmental efforts.

Mining companies also are required by the government to complete an environmental impact statement of their proposed development sites.

Most States also require that companies lodge a bond for mining leases, like a bond for a leased house, which can be forfeited if the mine site is not returned in a satisfactory condition.

Lease conditions can include landscaping, rehabilitation of acidic, saline and alkaline areas, revegetation, and the removal of roads and buildings.

Association of Mining and exploration Companies chief executive George Savell believes the mining industry has been well ahead of the government in terms of reducing its environmental impact.

“I think its part of a good neighbour policy which was adopted long ago, and we are continually refining this,” he said.

Mr Savell believes the Australian mining industry has been a world leader in the environmental stakes, with other countries looking to Australia to address their own green issues. The exporting of green technology, such as methods of mining, mining design, scientific method and rehabilitation issues, could be worth up to $1 billion a year, according to Mr Savell.

Bill Biggs, general manger Environment and Health with the Department of Minerals and Energy, said bonds ranged from $10,000 a hectare for high risk areas such as tailing dams through to $2,000 per hectare for land set aside for roads or airstrips.

Large mining operations like Anaconda’s Murrin Murrin nickel project and the Boddington Gold Mines pay about $30 million in bonds to the WA Government, while smaller operations can pay as little as $15,000.

The bond can be reduced during the mine life as the company carries out ongoing rehabilitation.

Mr Biggs said the Government had to call up the bonds only on about 15 occasions during the past 15 years when companies failed to carry out the work because of financial difficulties.

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