Minerals and the Environment
A key goal of national minerals policy is to maximise the contribution of the mining sector to the economy, with due regard to its social and environmental impact. It is essential therefore that minerals exploration and development is undertaken in a manner which does not result in environmental damage. State Mining Leases and Licences issued under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999 contain clauses prohibiting the working of minerals without Planning Permission and, if necessary, an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) licence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Exploration and the Environment
Mineral exploration generally has, at most, minimal effects on the environment. EMD has published guidelines for good environmental practice in mineral exploration that must be adhered to by Prospecting Licence holders. Some advanced exploration such as trenching or bulk sampling is potentially more invasive so such activities require the specific consent of the Minister, which will only be forthcoming if it is shown that there will be no significant adverse impacts.
Mining, Land Use Planning and Environmental Protection
The current Irish permitting system is designed to ensure that detailed consideration is given to pollution prevention and control before, during and after mining. Both Land Use Planning and Environmental Protection Legislation contribute to the process.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
One of the key elements in the system is the implementation of the EEC (now European Union) Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment in 1990. This requires the submission of an Environmental Impact Statement which must identify and consider all "likely significant environmental impacts". EIA thus allows detailed consideration of projects through a structured format and encourages informal, voluntary discussion during the design phase of projects. The EIA process for mining is implemented through the land use Planning Acts and Regulations. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is a statutory consultee in the planning and EIA process for extraction of minerals governed by the Minerals Development Acts, and will pay particular attention to mining issues such as potential for subsidence and closure planning (see below).
Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Licensing (IPPCL)
The Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992 established a new process for the control of environmental pollution which had previously been the responsibility of the Local Authorities. The Act established the Environmental Protection Agency, an independent State agency which is responsible for regulating and controlling all areas of industry, including mining, that are likely to pose a threat to the environment through their activities. Since May 1994 it is obligatory for new mining developments to obtain Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Licences from the Agency. All aspects of air and water pollution, noise and waste are covered by this single integrated licence.
In granting an IPPC Licence, the EPA must be satisfied that "best available technology not entailing excessive costs" (BATNEEC) will be used to prevent or limit emissions. The emphasis in determining what is BATNEEC is placed on pollution prevention rather than "end of pipe" solutions. The EPA has compiled BATNEEC guidance note which sets out current views within the industry on what is BATNEEC. These will have regard to the current state of technical knowledge, the requirements of environmental protection and the application of measures which do not entail excessive costs, taking account of the risk of pollution.
Preparation of a detailed properly costed closure plan is a requirement of State Mining Leases and Licences, IPPC Licences and planning permissions. Under the terms of these permits, adequate financial provision must be made for all closure and rehabilitation costs, including for premature closure, which must take account of any long-term residual active or passive care which might be necessary, including monitoring and inspection.
The ultimate aim of the closure plan should be to leave the mine and the tailings management facility (TMF) site in an acceptable condition which ensures public health and safety, minimises the risk of contamination and, where possible, allows productive use of the land or otherwise creates a stable environment capable of integration into surrounding land uses. It is also highly desirable that the end-points should be as close as possible to stable "walk-away" solutions requiring only minimal maintenance and monitoring consistent with chemical and physical stability.
Compensation for Damage or Nuisance
The Minerals Development Acts provide that compensation must be paid in respect of any damage to land or water supplies, or nuisance caused as a result of activity under a prospecting licence or a State mining lease or licence. This is a strict liability, which means that there is no need to demonstrate negligence, only that damage was caused by working minerals or minerals exploration.
The following Acts and Regulations make specific reference to minerals development: