The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism updated the Committee on the progress of the National Environmental Management Amendment Bill. After the Department had expressed reservations last year, the Committee had instructed this Department and Department of Minerals and Energy to find some resolutions on the question of environmental impact assessments and authorisations, particularly for mining. The departments were recommending that the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) must be amended so that all references to the environment were removed from that Act, and it should then be cross referenced with the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). All impact assessments, including those for mining, would be dealt with under NEMA. These amendments must ensure smooth transition of the processes and ensure that there was comprehensive coverage of all issues. The Department was busy with a draft, which it would be presenting to the Ministers in the following week.
Members raised questions on the actions taken to train and upgrade skills, capacity in the Department, the implications of the appeal process for the Department, the roles of the two Ministers, rehabilitation of mining areas, and environmental management frameworks. Members then asked a number of questions around the current energy crisis, bringing mothballed coal fired stations back on line, the impact of increased coal mining, prevention of air pollution, protection of communities close to power stations, and the position of municipal-owned stations. It was noted that the Department would be briefing the Department on greenhouse gases shortly and many of the questions could be addressed then.
National Environmental Management Amendment Bill: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) Briefing
The Chairperson noted that the Department was now being briefed upon a new version of the Environmental Management Amendment Bill, and that the Committee must be mindful of the changes made to the original version.
Ms Joanne Yawitch, Deputy Director General, Department of Environment and Tourism, reminded Members that towards the end of last year it was decided that the adoption of the Bill must stand over, due to concerns expressed by the Committee with the wording. She would present an update on “work in progress”, because there had not yet been final sign-off by the Minister. She was merely describing what the Department had done.
There had been interaction between the two Departments – DEAT and Department of Minerals and Energy (DME). This took into account the results of the consultations between the Ministers. Her department was asked to find some resolution on the question of environmental authorisations, including mining, in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). The Minister of Environmental Affairs would be the appeal authority for mining authorisations, and the Minister of Minerals and Energy would be the competent authority for mining environmental impact assessments (EIA).
The two departments had concluded that the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) must be amended so that all references to the environment were removed. That Act was then to be cross referenced with NEMA. All impact assessments, including those for mining, would be dealt with under NEMA, as the over-arching framework, in the same way. DEAT therefore needed to ensure that the cross referencing to NEMA had the appropriate language and consistency to ensure that the transition was smooth. This initial drafting should be completed by the end of the week and would be given to the Ministers.
DEAT would also need to look at the transition from Environment Management Programme Reports (EMPR) to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for mining at an administrative level, and the transition from one system into another.
Ms Yawitch confirmed the commitment of DEAT to the drafting and administration of the Bill, and highlighted that DEAT was attempting to expedite the Bill in the shortest possible time. The Department was committed to finishing and having the draft signed off by the end of the week as there was a joint committee hearing the following week.
The Chairperson began the question session by again highlighting the fact that this was the second time this Bill had come before the Committee. He therefore requested to know what exactly the changes to the MPRDA would be, and what measures were being taken to ensure that the changes were accepted this time round.
Mr G Morgan (DA) noted the fact that the MPRDA legislation was also sent back to the department and went through an intensive hearing process the previous year. He asked what had been the outcome.
Mr Morgan felt that it was necessary to focus on referencing when reconsidering the Bill.
Ms Yawitch confirmed that there would be a focus on environmental management, particularly in regard to mining. The licensing and training processes would take this into consideration.
Mr Morgan noted that NEMA regulations would now be applicable to mining. He therefore asked what actions had been taken to train and upgrade skills, and whether the Department had the necessary capacity to do these things.
Ms Yawitch noted that there was an existing capacity in the country for growth. She noted that DEAT had been involved in extensive training and capacity building and said that this would not be lost. In July 2006 the Department had implemented extensive training structures and the officials from DME would simply be incorporated into the whole training regime to ensure a seamless transition. Aspects such as filing systems, registration systems, training and skills management would be addressed in training meetings between the DME and the DEAT officials.
Mr Morgan also noted the inclusion of the appeal process and asked about the implications of this for the Department itself, including the costs and the numbers of mining requests. He asked what impact this would have on the deeds administered, the appeal process, the costs involved and the department as a whole.
Ms Yawitch responded that the Minister of Minerals and Energy would have capacities as outlined by NEMA in the areas of mining. In regard to capacity of the Department to deal with appeals, she noted that certain processes would have to be put in place, such as advisory services for the Minister, additional capacity for this function of the Minister, legal services and dedicated unit advisors. She noted that there was much ‘nitty gritty’ detail to iron out. However, the two departments had decided on a process and now the emphasis was on accurate drafting and submission to the Ministers and Portfolio Committees.
Mr Morgan queried the efficiency of the provision for mining licenses in the revised Bill.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) queried the roles of the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism as an over seeing supervisor, and the authority of the Minister of Minerals and Energy. In light of the fact that NEMA would now become the overarching authority, she sought clarity on the capacity and powers that the Minister would have.
Ms Yawitch said that the Minister of Minerals and Energy would retain the responsibilities vested in her by the MPRDA concerning environmental management. However, instead of these responsibilities being facilitated through the MPRDA, they would now be filtered through NEMA; therefore streamlining the system.
Ms Yawitch noted that the MPRDA included certain provisions around rehabilitation after mining, which were not necessarily included in NEMA. She said that this emphasised the importance of DEAT ensuring that all the necessary provisions in relation to environmental matters were properly cross referenced, and the importance of nothing being left out in the transition. There was considerable work to be done by the drafters and others to ensure that all aspects were included and addressed in the revised legislation.
Mr Morgan asked if there was an intention to centralise the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes nationally under the NEMA Bill, or whether these would decentralise to the nine provincial offices.
Mr Morgan (DA) felt that the substantive issue was that the Committee must engage in issues of capacity and staffing, in highlighting NEMA regulations and in fulfilling the intentions. He noted that expressed intentions often fell short of practical application, and expressed some cynicism that making of regulations would be sufficient for training and capacity.
Ms Yawitch noted that officials of the department worked within the prescribed mandate set by Ministers. Any further duties, obligations or specifications were limited by this mandate.
Mr Morgan further submitted that it was likely that this Bill would be delayed for a further few weeks, and asked DEAT to look into how it would provide an oversight function.
Mr Morgan asked Ms Yawitch directly if the ‘tools’ provided in this Bill would ensure that the Department was moving forward, particularly with regard to the role of the Minister.
Mr Morgan raised the issue of funding, particularly the funding of “hot spots” of assistance and training country wide.
Mr Morgan raised the issue of the establishment of Environmental Management Frameworks (EMF) throughout the country as an additional measure by the Department to assess the cumulative effects of mines throughout
Ms Yawitch noted that impact management had been assisted by a large amount allocated from National Treasury. Much of this money had gone into work at provincial level, such as the back log projects, and supporting provinces in EMFs. DEAT had already funded some EMF projects, and would continue to do so. The EMF served as a planning tool for the authorities, and also addressed issues of zoning, and what should and should not be happening in particular areas. Large amounts of funding had also gone into capacity and support of EMF. Once the new legislation was in place, zoning would occur and it would become an area for both local and provincial governance. She expressed a hope that this EMF zoning and would short circuit a lot of work that was currently done on a private project basis, and that the Department would have the opportunity to do much more.
The Chairperson submitted that DEAT and the Committee must aim for pursuit of an ideal system where all EIAs must be run by the Department and not by individual municipalities, although this may be a broad coverage.
Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) brought up the issues raised around race and competency in connection with the Minister of Minerals and Energy. She noted that in fact consultants had shifted money into their own pockets, and that it had nothing to do with the Minister. She felt that the remarks and opinions were not justified.
Mr Morgan asked if DEAT only had the ability to become involved in the regulations and creation of an EIA after decision, or if there was a mechanism by which such intervention could occur sooner.
Mr Morgan then queried whether an appeal could only be brought by a third party, or if the Minister in possession of relevant information would be able to bring an appeal.
Mr Morgan then moved away from questions of mining, and asked about the current energy crisis. He noted that the general sentiment was that to ‘keep the lights on’, EIAs for mining must be rushed through. In his view this negated the purpose of an EIA. He agreed the necessity for feeding the furnaces, but noted that there was a need to consider the long term and short term damages of such decisions.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) also commented on the energy crisis, noting that in the coming months there would be new searches for and use of minerals, particularly of coal. She said that the new legislation should take account of the new processes of extraction and utilisation of coal and other forms of energy, and must be subject to NEMA’s oversight.
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) touched on issues of mining and global warming. She noted that coal mining presently set unsurpassable limits. She queried whether these would continue to stand and what the regulations would be around the issues. Furthermore she highlighted the hazards of pollution; and the fact that marginalised communities lacked ability to influence matters. She asked what mechanisms would ensure protection and clean air.
Ms Ndzanga highlighted the issue of mass pollution created by the coal stations and noted that many of the previously dormant stations were now to be reactivated due to the energy crisis. She asked if regulations would be put in place concerning these powers stations to reduce and limit the pollution.
Ms Chalmers reaffirmed the importance of reducing pollution by power stations, asked who, at present, took responsibility for such pollution and queried whether a new EIA would be brought in to deal with it.
Ms Yawitch responded broadly that the EIA system was a clear and robust one with which the public could engage, and that the legislation required that all interests were considered and the requirements met. However, she asserted that the new system must be free of the independent needs of individuals and that there were two parts to ensuring a solid, robust and transparent system. On the one side, there was law making side and on the other he implementation. DEAT was aware of and committed to both.
On the issue of coal and power stations, particularly bringing ‘moth balled’ power stations back on line, she noted that the EIAs for those power stations were done in 2004, and that several pollution prevention devices were put into place, and would be continually updated. There would be better air pollution prevention devices than before. However, there was a problem in that many of the power stations were owned by the municipalities. They were therefore governed not by Eskom, but by the province. They would still need to obtain an air quality license and adhere to some of the regulations, but those stations that were municipally-owned might not have to comply with such stringent measures. New EIAs and new air quality licenses would be needed in an attempt to engage in pollution prevention technologies. With regard to carbon and coal,
Ms Yawitch again stressed the importance of rehabilitation, and identification and rectification of the problems, within the MPRDA and NEMA. She finally urged the Committee to consider a joint committee meeting to discuss greenhouse gases and energy provision.
On the topic of procedure, Ms Yawitch noted that DME and DEAT produced documents and then took them to the requisite Ministers. The Ministers would decide what to do and the decisions would be tabled at the Portfolio Committees. There was a possibility of further amendments - most for MPRDA but less for NEMA. DEAT believed that there were several issues around the MPRDA, particularly the issue of competency, which would still need to be discussed and decided on. She thought that there would be around three amendments to NEMA to create transition.
Ms P Sekgobela (ANC) reaffirmed the points already raised on air quality. Ironically the poorer communities tend to be located around the power stations. She asserted that Members must be the voice of these communities. She further queried the role of the municipalities in the control of the power stations.
Ms Yawitch confirmed that indeed it would the municipalities rather than Eskom who would be in control of the power stations. These municipally-owned power stations would be used to supplement Eskom power.
Ms Ntuli asked how the national DEAT could intervene where the municipalities owned the power stations, particularly if necessary actions were not being taken.
Ms Yawitch again suggested that these questions be kept back for the briefing on 20 February on greenhouse gases. She added that the new Bill would have to address issues around updating of licensing standards and implementation.
The meeting was adjourned.
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