Jelai forest safe for now after DOE rejects EIA terms for rare earth mine

A stakeholders meeting raised concerns about pollutants, health effects.

A patch of land in Pahang’s Jelai forest the size of 924 football fields is safe from being turned into a rare earth mine for now.

The Department of Environment (DOE) yesterday rejected terms proposed by a mining company for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the project.

NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia’s People Before Profit desk coordinator B Suresh Kumar told Malaysiakini that the decision was reached at a stakeholders meeting chaired by DOE deputy director-general (development) Norhazni Mat Sari yesterday.

“The terms of reference (TOR) for the EIA report was not certified.

“So for the moment, the project lead needs to come up with a proper TOR,” he said.

The proposed project is spearheaded by mineral mining company Aras Kuasa Sdn Bhd (AKSB), which wants to extract lanthanide from the site.

Widely used for industrial and scientific purposes, lanthanides are a group of 15 different rare earth elements. Lanthanide is also processed by Australian rare earth company Lynas Corporation in Malaysia.

According to a summary of the meeting sighted by Malaysiakini, 27 stakeholders representing various government agencies, academicians, expert matter consultants, and NGOs were present to weigh in on the TOR.

Key points include for the proposed mining site to be located within a permanent forest reserve, with no effort made to change the area’s status.

Contrary to AKSB’s TOR which described the mining site as undeveloped land that has been logged out, the Forestry Department told the meeting that 397ha of 660ha was never logged before.

The remaining 263ha was also not fully logged and the last logging done in the area was in 2008, according to the summary document.

This corroborates satellite imagery which shows the area as being densely forested.

Meanwhile, questions were also raised about AKSB’s plans to use the “in-situ leaching” method to extract the rare earth element.

The meeting summary stated that AKSB could not explain what other material might be dissolved during the mining process which could pose risks to nearby Orang Asli villages.

Two Orang Asli villages – Kampung Jintir and Pos Lanai – are located two and six kilometres southeast of the proposed project site respectively.

Orang Asli villagers from Pos Lanai had in September last year submitted a protest letter against the proposed rare earth project in Jelai to the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa).

Other concerns raised include uncertainties over possible discharge of pollutants into Sungai Telum, a major river that passes through the proposed site, which also has several smaller streams running through it.

The summary document stated that AKSB based its proposal on a mining project in Southern China, which might not be suitable to implement in Malaysia.

This is the second major development being proposed for the area that has raised environmental concerns.

Previously, there were plans to erect a dam near Pos Lanai but the project was scrapped by the Pakatan Harapan government in 2019.

Malaysiakini is attempting to contact the DOE and AKSB for further comment.

MALAYSIAKINI

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