New DENR secretary brands open-pit mining as ‘madness’

The incoming Cabinet official in charge of Philippine mining has slammed the use of open pits to extract minerals, describing it as “madness” even to consider the method in the resource-rich country because of the environmental impact.

The stance by Regina Lopez, an environmentalist who on Tuesday accepted President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s offer to head the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, could set her on a collision course with the mining industry.

“Open-pit mining as in the use of explosives is horrific for the environment. It’s a cheap way to extract. And for the top most country vulnerable to climate change it’s madness to even consider it,” Lopez said in a text message to Reuters.

“We must stop killing our future for the interests of a few.”

News of Lopez’ appointment sent Philippine mining stocks tumbling.

The Philippines sits on mineral reserves worth $1.4 trillion, but mining accounts for less than 1 percent of GDP, as policy bottlenecks and an anti-mining lobby led by the Roman Catholic Church hamper development.

The biggest stalled venture is the $5.9 billion gold-copper Tampakan project on Mindanao island.

Glencore last year quit the project which has failed to take off after the province where Tampakan is located banned open-pit mining in 2010.

The Philippines’ mining law allows open-pit mining.

While not saying she would stop any form of mining, Lopez said we “will not allow any activity that causes suffering.”

“I will not allow any activity that disadvantages our farmers and fishermen. Food security and the quality of life of our people are the topmost priority,” Lopez said.

Among those using the open-pit method is top nickel ore producer, Nickel Asia Corp. The Philippines is the biggest nickel ore supplier to China, shipping 34.3 million tons last year.

The country has previously suffered mining disasters. In 1996, a tunnel leak at the Canadian-owned Marcopper Mining Corp’s copper mine in Marinduque dumped 1.5 million cubic meters of tailings into surrounding waters, contaminating rivers.

Duterte, who starts his term on June 30, has warned he will cancel mining projects causing environmental harm.

Lopez would have to recognize the need to compromise, said business consultant Peter Wallace.

“We can’t have no mining, that’s just completely untenable,” said Wallace.

Philex Mining Corp Chairman Manuel Pangilinan said the industry needed to give Lopez the chance to “articulate her policies.”

“For us we have to take the view that it is business as usual,” Pangilinan said. – Reuters and GMA News Online

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