Summary of findings and company response
Northam’s Environmental Policy, downloadable from its website, states:
In pursuit of responsible and ethical corporate citizenship Northam is committed to playing an active role in the stewardship of the environment surrounding the mining and metallurgical operations under the company’s control.
In order to limit adverse environmental impacts of its activities on surrounding communities and their natural resources, Northam strives to achieve the following:
- Compliance with accepted environmental practices;
- Meeting or exceeding applicable legal requirements;
- Striving for continual improvement in our environmental management and business systems;
- Adopting appropriate technological and engineering responses to environmental concerns;
- Raising awareness of environmental concerns among the workforce through appropriate training and communications; and
- Encouraging our suppliers and business partners to adopt similar principles.1
Northam expresses the view, in its 2012 and 2013 Sustainable Development Reports, that “[r]eporting on compliance for the sake of it does not add value”. The CER does not share this view. The extent to which companies with significant environmental impacts are complying or failing to comply with environmental laws is of great concern to affected communities, civil society, and investors.
The Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Water and Sanitation are responsible for compliance monitoring and enforcement of environmental and water laws by mining companies. Thus far, unlike the Department of Environmental Affairs, neither department has published any information on the findings of their inspections or on the enforcement action taken by their departments. This means that it is impossible to know whether or not the level of disclosure on environmental non-compliances by mining companies in their annual reports is accurate or complete. Unless it reports on compliance, it is impossible to verify Northam’s stated commitment to “[m]eeting or exceeding applicable legal requirements”.
Northam’s company reports repeatedly reference Northam’s submission of an application for an atmospheric emission licence for its Zondereinde operations. It is unclear from the reports, however, whether this licence has been granted, and whether or not Zondereinde is operating without the required licence. In his response to Full Disclosure, Northam’s CEO, Mr Paul Dunne, confirmed that:
[t]he relevant AEL was granted to Northam in February 2016 and authorises the Zondereinde operation to conduct the following activities: drying and calcining, smelting and converting of sulphide ores, precious and base metal production and refining and associated activities.
This was also confirmed in Northam’s 2016 Integrated Annual Report, which was published on 30 September 2016 after the CER had written to Northam for comment on Full Disclosure.
Northam states in its 2015 Integrated Annual Report that it has requested “exemption from the requirement to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO₂) emissions by 2020, based on affordability and the historic dispersion of SO₂ at Zondereinde which has been significantly lower than the licensed limits.”2 This is repeated in Northam’s 2016 Integrated Annual Report.
South African air quality laws3 make provision for an application to be made to the National Air Quality Officer for the postponement of minimum emission standard (MES) compliance time frames for existing plants. There is no provision in South African law for any official to exempt any applicant from any requirement to comply with MES. This was confirmed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs in a March 2014 press release.4
Furthermore, in a 27 September 2016 response to an enquiry from the Centre for Environmental Rights, the National Air Quality Officer advised that “an application for postponement of compliance timeframe [sic] was received from Northam Platinum Zondereinde Smelter Plant. The application was however incomplete and a letter requiring additional information was sent to Northam Platinum on 4 May 2015. The Department is yet to receive a response to this letter and as a result the application has not been processed further”. The statement in Northam’s 2015 Integrated Annual Report that the company is “awaiting feedback from DEAT [Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism]” in relation to this application is therefore not the position held by the National Air Quality Officer.
In his response to Full Disclosure, Mr Dunne states that “if any confusion has arisen around the misuse of the term “exemption”, where postponement would have been correct and appropriate, we apologise for that”. However, Mr Dunne simply refers to the application submitted by Northam for postponement, providing details on the information included in that application, and confirms that “[a]t this time Northam does not have authorisation to postpone compliance by 2020”. Mr Dunne does not address the fact that, according to the National Air Quality Officer, the delay in processing Northam’s application for postponement is a result of incomplete information received from Northam.
- http://www.northam.co.za/governance/policies-and-procedures (last accessed on 7 November 2016).
- Northam Platinum 2015 Integrated Annual Report at p105.
- Paragraphs 11-14 of the List of activities which result in atmospheric emissions which have or may have a significant detrimental effect on the environment, including health, social conditions, economic conditions, ecological conditions or cultural heritage (published in terms of section 21 of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (AQA)), read together with paragraph 184.108.40.206 of the 2012 National Framework for Air Quality Management (published in terms of section 7 of the AQA).
- The media release can be accessed at: https://www.environment.gov.za/mediarelease/eskomapplication_airqualitystandards (last accessed on 7 November 2016).