China drafts new environmental rules to curb mining pollution

August 9, 2016

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) published draft rules that aim to address growing concerns over the state of China’s environment by raising standards and punishments on the nation’s mining sector.

The new laws will look to force mining companies and local governments to adhere to the higher environmental standards by forcing them to treat more than 85 percent of their waste water, and by putting systems in place to achieve the "comprehensive utilization" of tailings and other solid waste.

Firms will also be forced to implement measures to remediate land and minimize emissions while mines are still in operation, rather than treating soil and water long after it has been contaminated.

Reuters reported that mining firms will also be pressured to implement measures to protect or even relocate valuable ecosystems. Producers of toxic heavy metals like lead or cadmium also need to make use of biological or chemical technologies to remediate contaminated soil.

The mining sector has been a crucial part of China's rapid economic expansion in the last three decades, but poor regulation and weak enforcement of standards has contaminated much of the country's soil and left parts of its land and water supplies unfit for human use, threatening public health.

The new rules will cover metals such as tin, copper, lead and rare earths, as well as minerals like calcium carbonate, though they do not apply to the coal industry, which has separate guidelines.

Other government bodies and state-owned mining firms like Jiangxi Copper and Yunnan Tin have been invited to submit their opinions on the draft rules before Aug. 25.

As much as 16 percent of China's soil exceeds state pollution limits, according to environment ministry data published in 2015, and farming on 3.3 million ha (8.15 million acres) of contaminated land across the country has been banned indefinitely.

China published an action plan to treat soil pollution earlier this year, saying that it aimed to bring the problem under control by 2020.

However, the cost of making China's contaminated land fit for crops or livestock could reach around 5 trillion yuan ($750 billion), according to Reuters calculations.

 

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