Principal applicable environmental laws

What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?

The Mining Act and its IRR contain provisions on environmental protection. Mining contractors are required to institute an environmental protection and enhancement programme prior to the commencement of mining operations and to submit final mine rehabilitation or decommissioning plans to ensure environmental protection beyond the life of the mine. Other environmental laws that may apply to mining operations include:

  • the Toxic Substance and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990;
  • the Clean Air Act of 1999; and
  • the Clean Water Act of 2004.

The DENR, and the agencies under it, including the MGB and EMB, ensure compliance with environmental laws.

Environmental review and permitting process

What is the environmental review and permitting process for a mining project? How long does it normally take to obtain the necessary permits?

An environmental compliance certificate (ECC) is required for mining projects. To secure an ECC, a proponent must prepare and submit an environmental impact statement (EIS). The EIS should include, among others, the following:

  • baseline environmental conditions focusing on the sectors (and resources) most significantly affected by the proposed action;
  • impact assessment focused on significant environmental impacts (in relation to project construction and commissioning, operation and decommissioning), taking into account cumulative impacts;
  • supporting documents, including technical and socio-economic data used and generated, certificate of zoning viability and municipal land use plan;
  • proof of consultation with stakeholders; and
  • proposals for environmental monitoring and guarantee funds, including a justification of the amount, if any.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) process involves four steps: scoping, conduct of EIA study and report preparation, review and evaluation of the EIA report, and decision making. The EMB takes at least 40 days to process an ECC application.

Closure and remediation process

What is the closure and remediation process for a mining project? What performance bonds, guarantees and other financial assurances are required?

The Mining Act IRR requires that a final mine rehabilitation and decommissioning plan (FMRDP) or mine closure plan be integrated in the environmental protection and enhancement programme (EPEP) to be submitted by contractors to the Mine Rehabilitation Fund Committee. The FMRDP shall consider all mine closure scenarios and shall contain cost estimates for the implementation of the FMRDP, taking in consideration expected inflation, technological advances, the unique circumstances faced by the mining operation, among others. Contractors and permit holders must rehabilitate the excavated, mined-out, tailings covered and disturbed areas to the condition of environmental safety pursuant to the FMRDP or mine closure plan.

The government has established an environmental guarantee fund mechanism known collectively as the Contingent Liability and Rehabilitation Fund (CLRF). The CLRF comprises the Mine Rehabilitation Fund (MRF), Mine Waste and Tailings (MWT) fees and the Final Mine Rehabilitation and Decommissioning Fund (FMRDF). The MRF must be established and maintained by each operating contractor and permit holder as a reasonable environmental deposit to ensure availability of funds for the satisfactory compliance with the commitments and performance of the activities stipulated in the EPEP. MWT fees are collected biannually from each operating contractor and permit holder based on the amounts of mine waste and mill tailings it generated for the said period to be used for payment of compensation for damages caused by any mining operations. The FMRDF must be established by each operating contractor or permit holder to ensure that the full cost of the approved FMRDP is accrued before the end of the operating life of the mine.

Under the Administrative Order issued by the DENR on 17 August 2018, contractors of MAs or FTAAs and holders of other similar mining tenements are required to submit and secure the approval of the Three-Year Development/Utilization Work Program (3YD/UWP) for the conduct of mining operations. Such 3YD/UWP must provide a detailed description of the course of every phase of mining operations covering a three-year mining cycle within the term on a mining tenement.

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

DENR Memorandum Order No. 32-99 (MO 32-99), issued in 1999, provides for policy guidelines and standards for mine wastes and mill tailings management. Mining permit holders must first secure clearance from the MGB, without prejudice to other required permits from other agencies of the DENR, before constructing and operating building tailings or waste dams. Permit holders are required to establish contingency and emergency preparedness plans to deal with significant events, which are assessed by the MGB prior to issuing the clearance.