The National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill, dubbed NEMLA IV, is set to pave the way for a ground-breaking new specialist rehabilitation industry to emerge in South Africa.This is according to Gary Rapson and Kirsty Kilner, experts in environmental law at Webber Wentzel. The Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly in late 2018 and is currently being considered by the National Council of Provinces, proposes to amend the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (NEMA) as well as a number of other specific environmental laws, including the Water Act, 1998, the Waste Act, 2008 and the Air Quality Act, 2004. Rapson and Kilner note that many of the proposed amendments, if implemented in their current form, will provide much needed clarity for the mining industry, particularly in relation to the regulation of financial provisioning and mine rehabilitation. “If cleverly implemented, this could allow mining companies to reduce the amount of money that is required to be set aside for final rehabilitation,” Rapson explains.
Redefining rehabilitationAccording to Rapson and Kilner NEMLA IV will also introduce definitions for commonly used terms such as mitigation, remediation, rehabilitation, and residual and latent impacts. “While definitions generally assist in interpreting the law, references to “reversing” environmental damage could be problematic. Any technical specialist will tell you that reversing environmental damage is often simply not possible,” the pair says.
“Under NEMLA IV, the quantum of financial provision is required to be calculated by a specialist environmental consultant, reviewed every three years and audited every five years. Audits will also have to be signed off by the CEO,” they add.Although the proposed changes to NEMA cannot address environmental problems arising from past mining activities, such as asbestos and acid mine contamination, the amendments will help to avoid similar mistakes being repeated in the future.