Fri, 04 May 2001

Newmont and pollution

I have always tried to avoid telling people how to do their jobs, but I find myself thrust into that position having just finished reading the article titled Activists accuse PT Newmont of polluting (The Jakarta Post, May 1, 2001). As a news organization, The Jakarta Post didn't fail on any professional standard, having sought comment from the company regarding the accusations made by the environmentalists. Overall, while the story isn't necessarily balanced, at least it's not completely unfair to the unfairly accused. But I'd like to ask the Post why this story qualified as "news"?

Network for Mining Advocacy (Jatam) and Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) have been saying that PT Newmont Minahasa Raya has polluted the environment for years now without ever offering one shred of actual proof to back up their claims. Somehow their claims are still published. The Walhi report referenced in the article, titled "From Minamata to Minahasa", lacks credibility by any scientific standard and no respectable researcher in this country or any other would consider putting their name on it. As usual, Walhi and Jatam have done nothing but seek to create conflict in the local communities by using scare tactics and fraudulent "science". They never offer real evidence to back up their claims nor do they ever seek solutions to the alleged "problem" they discover. There is nothing "new" about this story.

News is when something interesting or out of the ordinary occurs (or doesn't occur). For instance, why have Walhi and Jatam done nothing about illegal mining, which is the real environmental issue in northern Sulawesi? Illegal mining dumps anywhere from 15 to 60 tons of raw mercury into the waterways of northern Sulawesi every year. And, by the way, it's not just northern Sulawesi that's being irreparably damaged by illegal mines using mercury. It's also happening in Central Kalimantan, South Sumatra and right here in West Java.

There will be another Minamata in Indonesia if someone doesn't do something soon to stop the rampant illegal mining in this country. And it will partially be because Walhi and Jatam ignored the problem in order to make baseless accusations about companies like Newmont and to satisfy the whims of their misguided leadership.

Where has Walhi and Jatam been over the past two years as the problem with illegal mining has grown out of control? Why haven't Walhi and Jatam done anything to combat one of the most pressing environmental problems in Indonesia? What are Walhi's and Jatam's plans for the future to combat the illegal mining industry? The answers to those questions would definitely be a news story.

Newmont isn't employing the "hey look over there" strategy. Given the fact that we do not use mercury or arsenic in the processing of our ore, we are stead fast in our belief that we are being wrongly accused and maliciously maligned by Walhi's and Jatam's "environmental advocacy". Not only have we conducted five different independent environmental audits in the past three years specifically addressing the allegations that Walhi and Jatam continue to make, we have also been working on pragmatic solutions to the problems created by illegal mining (since Walhi and Jatam aren't).

Newmont has developed small-scale technology that allows illegal miners to process their ore without the use of mercury. Working with several Manado-based environmental groups, Newmont is trying to put this technology into the field in order to reduce or eliminate the use of mercury.

The company is also assisting in public information campaigns about the dangers of mercury contamination. Thank heavens there are environmental groups out there who are tackling the real environmental problems facing Indonesia today. The fact that Walhi and Jatam aren't among those groups is an important news story that everyone, including the Post, seems to be overlooking.


Director of Technical Affairs

PT Newmont, Jakarta