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A STRING of mining projects are in the process of being approved. Some projects use state governments’ position to get approvals. Perhaps increasing the pollution risk to the environment and impacting the food chain. In all these scenarios, we see the Department of Environment (DOE) and its ministry always repeating a show. Until today there is no sense of actual environmental enforcement.

We have been hearing the stale reason of needing to amend the Environment Quality Act (EQA) for more than a decade but nothing much is moving forward.

The Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer) has been raising the issue of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) being an outdated process with archaic requirements. Changing the requirements for EIA review and expanding the list of prescribed activities is an easy task. Pollution loading is ever increasing and available undisturbed natural zones are getting less. If these basic parameters do not give urgency to the DOE to buckle up on enforcement, we are in danger of contaminating the food chain as well as destroying the environment.

Let’s look at the Kuantan bauxite pollution incident. Where are the detailed technical reports? Basically, when pollution like this takes place, the DOE must carry out detailed pollutant tracing and present a detailed report for the public. Unfortunately, we had the moratorium lifted and the mining activities will continue.

Suspected arsenic pollution from a mining area in Gerik, Perak, caused a treatment plant to be shut down in first quarter of 2019. Why should we allow mining activities to disturb the public’s livelihoods? In the case of water treatment plant shutdown, who should bear the cost of sourcing treated water from another treatment plant which may cause addition cost to infrastructure?

Mining zones are not detached from the real world. Mining residues and pollutants will accumulate and increase in concentration over time. To contain this risk, a mining company will have to invest a huge sum and it will make the mining activities not lucrative. So, “smart” businesses will make use of loopholes in the law to escape responsibility.

To end the show on environmental enforcement, we need the federal government to revamp the DOE’s structure and amend the EQA by end of 2021. The Cabinet must form a cabinet committee that includes real environmental experts to review the proposed amendments. This is to ensure that the DOE and the ministry in charge of the environment do not table only non essential amendments.

The amendments must have a clause to follow a strict grace period to shift to new requirements for existing projects or operations.

Lastly, the government must have new rules under the amended EQA for the mining sector to enforce and induce a mandatory containment and decontamination requirement. However, the decontamination should involve proper treatment of waste and wastewater and not an “approved dilution” or direct discharge to rivers. For developers that are developing disused mining pools into residential and other property development, similar rule must also be imposed.

Generally, there is still a lot of work to be done in environmental enforcement and the DOE and the ministry in charge of the environment need to step up their game.

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit” – Aristotle.

This article was contributed by Piarapakaran S, president of the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer), a non-government organisation involved in research and development in the fields of water, energy and environment.

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