Sat, 16 Sep 2000

Freeport violated Government Regulation: Minister Sonny

JAKARTA (JP): State Minister of the Environment Sonny Keraf announced mining firm PT Freeport Indonesia misled the public in recent advertisements by not revealing the full results of its environmental audit.

The audit was conducted by independent international environmental engineering firm Montgomery Watson last year, and Freeport printed the results of the audit in numerous publications on Jan. 20 this year.

However, the company only printed those results which were favorable to the company, which operates in Grasberg, Irian Jaya, Sonny said during a media conference in his office here on Thursday.

The "negative issues", the minister said, were not published, so the people, who have the right to know the truth, received misleading information about the company.

"It (the ad) was not in line with the complete report of the audit results and the realities in the field," he said.

According to Sonny, Freeport has the right to conduct voluntarily environmental audits, but they do not have the right to mislead the public.

"Whoever they choose to do the audit is no problem. But once they decide to publish the result, the information must be true," he said.

He said his office, through a joint verification team, would "verify" the matter and "discuss" it with Freeport.

When asked to comment, Freeport's senior corporate communications manager, Siddharta Moersjid, said on Friday: "We're examining the case right now."

Sonny's office said at least 10 points in the advertisement published by Freeport needed verifying. These include a statement that all of Freeport's activities in Irian Jaya meet national and international mining standards.

This statement contradicts findings made by the Environmental Impact Management Agency earlier this year, the minister said.

According to this earlier report, the liquid tailing waste discharged in Aghawagon River and Wanagon River at Freeport's mining site have exceeded industry standards.

The Total Suspended Solid value in the river has reached more than 400 milligrams per liter. As a comparison, allowable mining discharge in the United States is 30 milligrams per liter, the state minister's office said.

The findings also showed Freeport violated Government Regulation No. 18/1999 by not conducting waste characteristic tests.

Several recommendations from Montgomery Watson to improve Freeport's environmental management system also were not revealed in the advertisement.

Montgomery Watson recommended Freeport conduct a comprehensive groundwater study and monitoring, and increase biological monitoring of estuaries downstream of the tailings deposit area to gauge the impact upon mollusks.

The company also suggested Freeport modify and update its mining closure plan for the entire project area, including the tailings deposit area.

Freeport, an affiliate of New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, has long been accused of environmental degradation around its mining site in Irian Jaya.

A deputy of environmental management at the Office of the State Minister of the Environment, Masnellyanti Hilman, said on Thursday the ministry expected Freeport to submit a report verifying the matter, as well as an environment management and monitoring plan.

"They have promised to send it to us in several weeks," she said.

According to Masnellyanti, the state minister has asked the company to re-review its waste management system.

"We asked them to manage the mining acid water from the overburden as it is a dangerous and toxic," she said,

But Masnellyanti insisted her office had no plan to take the company to the court.

"But I'm afraid that if they ignore the verification and do not manage the waste properly, we will hand out administrative sanctions."(09)