EnvironmentPrincipal applicable environmental laws
What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?
There are many laws relating to the management of environmental problems. Each of these laws contains certain environmental requirements that relate to principal activities of the competent authorities. For example, the Factories Law contains provisions designating the MOI as the body responsible for dealing with environmental problems arising from a factory’s operation. The public health law designates the Ministry of Public Health and local authorities as the bodies responsible for certain environmental problems, such as public nuisance or waste-water management, among others. With respect to natural resources management and conservation, there are laws that apply to each type of natural resource, such as water, soil and minerals.
The Environmental Act (1992), as amended in 2018, is the principal law for managing environmental problems in all respects, including water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, other pollution, as well as hazardous waste and conservation of natural resources. In addition, the Environmental Act requires both private and public sectors to prepare an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the prescribed operations or activities, and provides for the establishment of an environmental fund to support activities related to environmental quality promotion and protection.
The Environmental Act established three principal agencies:
- the ONEP;
- the Department of Pollution Control; and
- the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion.
These three agencies are attached to the MNRE. Their main powers and duties are as follows.
The ONEP has the primary responsibility for the coordination and preparation of natural resources and environmental management plans to comply with the enhancement and conservation of national environmental quality law and other relevant laws, including proceedings relating to the assessment of environmental impacts that may arise from projects or activities of public and private sector companies.
Department of Pollution Control
The Department of Pollution Control is primarily responsible for making recommendations regarding environmental quality standards and standards for controlling pollution from its source. Its duties include preparing measures for controlling, preventing and solving environmental problems arising from pollution, taking steps regarding pollution complaints and taking action under the national environmental quality promotion and protection law, the pollution law, as well as other relevant laws.
Department of Environmental Quality Promotion
The Department of Environmental Quality Promotion is primarily responsible for the promotion and dissemination of information relating to the environment. In addition, it has a duty to compile, develop and provide services in relation to environmental data as the national environmental information and data centre, to promote public participation in environmental conservation, protection and utilisation of natural resources, to act as an environmental dispute prevention and mediation centre, to coordinate and propose plans and measures to promote and disseminate information relating to national resources and environmental protection, and to study, research, develop, support and transfer technology and environmental management.
The National Health Act provides a framework and guidelines for formulating national policies, strategies and activities in regard to national health, and provides mechanisms for securing continuous participation from all sectors in promoting health, and improving national health effectively and thoroughly. Health impact assessments (HIAs), as required under the Constitution, are formulated and supervised by this Act.
The new Minerals Act contains numerous provisions on environment and communities.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?
Important rules concerning environmental quality promotion and protection, which apply to exploration and mining under the Environmental Act are as follows.
Section 58 of the 2017 Thai Constitution provides that any project or activity that may cause severe impacts on the environment may not be done unless the impacts on environmental quality and health of people in the surrounding community has been studied and evaluated first. The rights of a community to have their input into any such evaluation, and take action against a government agency or organisation for not fulfilling these rights, are protected in the same provision. The environmental impact assessment report approval process is as provided in the Environmental Act (1992) as amended in 2018.
The new Minerals Act includes numerous provisions for environmental review, by both existing and new government agencies. See section 5 of the new Minerals Act for powers of MNRE and MOI.
The National Environment Board
The National Environment Board has the power to prescribe the Environmental Act in the following areas:
- water quality in public water sources;
- underground water quality;
- air quality;
- noise level; and
- vibration etc.
In prescribing such standards, technical principles, scientific evidence, economic and social feasibility, as well as relevant technology, must be taken into consideration. If the National Environment Board deems it appropriate, it may prescribe higher environmental quality standards than the general standards in areas that have been declared conservation areas, environmental protection areas, areas that have been approved by the cabinet for the use of measures to solve environmental problems or a pollution control zone.
General projects and activities
Under the Environmental Act, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, with the approval of the National Environment Board, has the power to require those undertaking certain projects or activities that may cause an impact to the environment to prepare and submit an EIA report. The projects or activities so required must be specified by notification in the Government Gazette.
Projects may be required to undertake either an EIA or an Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA). These two different levels of assessment depend on the type and size of the project. A project that is required to prepare an EHIA report as a project that may cause severe impact to the community in terms of environmental quality, natural resources and health of a community must do so in strict compliance with the notifications of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment regarding the criteria, procedure, regulations and guidelines for preparing such a report (found in a notification published on 29 December 2009).
All mining projects require an EIA report. EIA reports must be submitted in the application for the mining lease under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Notification dated 24 April 2012, which came into effect on 21 June 2012.
The following mining activities require the preparation and submission of an EHIA (notification of 31 August 2010):
- underground mines whose structure is designed to collapse after mining without any support, and no substitute form of support is inserted to prevent the collapse (all sizes);
- mines for lead, zinc or other metallic mineral mines using cyanide or mercury or lead nitrate in the production process, or other metallic mineral mines with arsenopyrite as an associated mineral (all sizes);
- coal mines only in the case the coals are conveyed out of the project site by car (200,000 tonnes or more per month or 2.4 million tonnes or more per year); and
- seabed mines (all sizes).
The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, with the recommendation of the Pollution Control Committee and the approval of the National Environment Board, has the power to prescribe standards for controlling pollution from its source, in order to control the release of waste water, emission of air pollution, dumping of waste or other pollution into the environment. However, other standards may be prescribed by other laws, such as the Factories Act. If the standards prescribed by other laws are not lower than those prescribed by the Environmental Act, such standards may be applied. In the event that standards prescribed by other laws are lower than those prescribed by the Environmental Act, the government agency in charge must amend those laws to make them consistent with the rules issued under the Environmental Act.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 old Minerals Act required that land used for mining be restored to its original state when it is no longer used for mining. There were no provision of laws addressing the closure of mines under the old Minerals Act.
The new Minerals Act include comprehensive provisions including:
- section 19 - general criteria of deposit areas for mining, including possible mining buffer boundaries, etc;
- section 32 - power of Minister to issue notification re mining buffer boundaries, etc, applicable to all licences;
- section 56 - right of people in community to hold a referendum on issue of an ML;
- section 67 - power of Minister to issue notification regards establishment of a control and monitoring committee;
- section 68 - obligations of holder of MLs including restoration of mining areas according to plan of restoration, development, utilisation and monitoring on impact on environment and people’s health during time of mining and after closure of the mine, as approved by the Mineral Committee, and placing of security for restoration and, in the case of category 2 and 3 mining, insurance;
- section 70 - revocation of MLs for failure to place security or take out insurance; and
- Chapter 6 (sections 76-93) - special provisions applicable to underground mining.
What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?
The new Minerals Act includes numerous new provisions, which prescribe rights and powers of regulators to address the above subjects. See question 37.
The Engineer Act (1999) governs the licensing of persons in charge of the operation and management of projects.