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 principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry are the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1994 (Act 490) and the Environmental Assessment Regulations 1999 (LI 1652). The Environmental Protection Agency is the regulatory body that administers these 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?

Mining companies are required to be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and obtain an environmental permit prior to commencement of their operations or project.

The applicant is required to submit an application and pay the requisite fees after which the EPA will carry out an initial assessment and issue a screening report for purposes of determining whether the application:

  • is approved;
  • is objected to;
  • requires submission of a preliminary environmental report (PER); or
  • requires the submission of an environmental impact statement (EIS).

Where the EPA is of the view that a significant adverse environmental impact is likely to result from the activities of any undertaking, the applicant shall be asked to submit an EIS on the undertaking in order that the environmental impact of the proposed undertaking can be assessed.

Where an EIS is acceptable to the EPA, it will communicate this in writing to the applicant and issue the environmental permit.

The law provides that the EPA should arrive at its decision within 90 days from the date of receipt of the application. There are exceptions to this time limit including where a hearing is conducted and where a PER is required. Also, the period does not include the period taken to prepare and submit an EIS.

The environmental permit is valid for 18 months, effective from the date of its issue. A mining company will be required to obtain (upon payment of the requisite fees) an environmental certificate within 24 months of the date of the commencement of operations after the EPA has approved a PER or an EIS and issued an environmental permit.

Companies that have received approval for either their PER or EIS are required to obtain an environmental management plan (EMP) within 18 months of commencement of operations and every three years thereafter. The EMP is required to set out steps that are intended to be taken to manage any significant environmental impact that may result from the operation of the project or undertaking.

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?

Mining businesses are required to submit reclamation plans to the EPA and are further obliged to post reclamation bonds regarding their reclamation plans and based on the approved work plan for reclamation.

On the termination of a mineral right, the former holder is obliged to deliver to the minister or as the minister directs, the following:

  • the records, which the holder is obliged under the Minerals Law to maintain;
  • the plans and maps of the area covered by the mineral right prepared by the holder or at the holder’s instructions; and
  • other documents, including in electronic format if available, that relate to the mineral right.

Failure to deliver the above within 30 days from the date of being called upon to do so by the minister makes the holder criminally liable, and the holder will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than the equivalent of US$10,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than three years, or both.

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

The Minerals and Mining (Health, Safety & Technical) Regulations 2012 (LI 2182) primarily govern the construction of tailings storage facilities including hazard classes, embankments, tailings storage facility impoundment, tailings discharge system and safety arrangements for tailings storage facilities.

These facilities are monitored by the Chief Inspector of Mines. As per LI 2182, the design and construction of tailings storage facilities must be done by a qualified engineer approved by the Chief Inspector of Mines.

Each mine with a tailing dam is required to appoint an independent engineer to conduct yearly annual dam safety audits. Although there are no specific requirements for emergency drills with the local communities, tailings facilities are only permitted to be sited in areas where failure of the embankment is not likely to result in a threat to human life.