Illegal mining in national forest park exposed

Government inspectors have found multiple cases of pollution and environmental infringements around China. Perhaps the most egregious was in Hexigten Banner, eastern Inner Mongolia, where large-scale iron mining operations had been taking place within the boundaries of the Huanggangliang National Forest Park since the 1990s.

According to the report by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, two separate companies have been operating a total of seven mining pits there, including open-pit mines, and related facilities. In total, they cover an area of nearly 25km2 and are estimated to have an annual output of around 3.4 million tonnes. The mining area is the second largest in Inner Mongolia, according to the Hexigten Banner government website,. 

Caixin reported that the mines began operating in 1992, while the national forest park was established in 1996. In 1994, a national level law was introduced, and subsequently updated in 2011 and 2016, banning extractive industries within national forest parks. However, officials in Hexigten Banner allowed the iron mining operations to continue.

The ministry’s report also lists multiple instances of pollution from the mine, including storing large amounts of tailings in the open, using forested land, and failing to take measures to prevent run off.

Ultimately, the inspection team points the blame at local officials, who they say have not “sufficiently paid attention to the issue of iron ore mining in the Huanggangliang National Forest Park [and] have not been strict enough in the authorisation of mining permits.”

Mining and other extractive and polluting activities within protected zones is a recurring problem in China and raises questions about how the government will effectively implement policies such as the national ecological redlines program. The ministry inspection teams in other regions of the country last month found cases of illegal and poorly managed waste dumping in a number of Gansu cities, continued promotion (rather than phasing out) of high-energy industries in Xinjiang, and illegal management of sludge in parts of Hebei province.