SAMARINDA, INDONESIA – Thousands of mines are closing in Indonesia’s tropical coal belt as prices languish and seams run dry. But almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape they have left behind.
Abandoned mine pits dot the bare, treeless hillsides in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s part of Borneo island. It is ground zero for a coal boom that made Indonesia the world’s biggest exporter of the mineral that fuels power plants. Abandoned mining pits have now become death traps for children who swim in them, and their acidic water is killing nearby rice paddies.
Indonesia has tried, mostly in vain, to get mining companies to keep their promises to clean up the ravaged landscape. But it doesn’t even have basic data on who holds the many thousands of mining licenses that were handed out during the boom days, officials say.
“Nobody was in control,” said Dian Patria, who works on natural resources at the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Patria estimated that 90 percent of the more than 10,000 mining license holders had not paid the reclamation funds they owe by law. One-third are for coal.
Even if they wanted to, many companies now lack the cash. The same large banks that leant billions during the boom have now pulled out of coal, wary of the sector’s commercial outlook and contribution to climate change.
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