KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia will not extend a moratorium imposed on bauxite mining on environmental grounds that expires on March 31 due to strong demand for the ingredient used to make aluminum, the country’s water, land and natural resources minister said on Tuesday.
Malaysia was once the biggest bauxite supplier to top buyer China, with shipments peaking at nearly 3.5 million tonnes a month at end-2015. But all bauxite mining was banned early in 2016 after unregulated mining and run-offs from unsecured stockpiles in eastern state Pahang contaminated water sources, turning roads, rivers and coastal waters red.
“In lifting the moratorium from March 31 onwards, we are ready to assure that the sustainable mining practices will be put in place to avoid a repeat of environmental transgressions in the past,” minister Xavier Jayakumar told Reuters in a text message.
Xavier first announced the decision on Monday, according to local media reports, during a visit to Pahang’s capital city of Kuantan, which was the worst hit by the bauxite pollution.
The minister said only miners that have registered with the state land and mines office would be allowed to extract bauxite, and that they can only use specific types of lorries to transport the mineral.
Miners are also barred from exporting unprocessed or unwashed bauxite to avoid a repeat of the environmental damage from over three years ago, Xavier said.
“Illegal activities will not be tolerated under any circumstances and those who breached the terms could be imposed the maximum fine of 500,000 Malaysian ringgit ($122,370) and three months imprisonment,” the minister said.
($1 = 4.0860 ringgit)
Reporting by Emily Chow and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Jane Merriman and Kenneth Maxwell
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