Fact Check: Is the the Environmental Protection Agency erecting economically damaging barriers to mining companies’ work in the Northern provinces?
The MP for Noshahr and Chalus, Ahmad Lashkani, claims that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has erected economically damaging regulatory barriers to sand mining companies working in the Northern provinces, leading to economic hardship and rising unemployment for residents in the area.
The workings of the EPA have become a political football in recent years, as the activities of the agency shifted under different presidents with differing priorities. During the eight years of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, environmental activists were the biggest critics of the EPA for failing to implement and enforce environmental rules and regulations. This changed after the election of centrist president Hassan Rouhani in 2013, as conservative-aligned media began to criticize the EPA and its new head, Massoumeh Ebtekar, for implementing and enforcing regulations that they claim unduly stifle business activities.
In recent years, environmental crises, including water shortages, forest degradation, rangeland fires, desertification, and sinkholes, have had a direct and tangible impact on the economic well-being of Iran. Mrs. Ebtekar blames the Ahmadinejad government for today’s environmental challenges and told Majlis that “environmental negligence has had a devastating impact on Iran’s ecosystem.”
At the same time, floods in the provinces of Mazandaran and Golistan, as well as Tehran, have devastated the livelihood of thousands of residents. Experts have linked these floods to the destruction of riverbeds by the sand mining industry.
To verify Lashkani’s statement, we examine the root causes of the conflict between the EPA and the mining companies.
Contradictions in Environmental Law
Contradictions and inconsistencies in the laws governing mining exploration and extraction have caused conflict between the EPA and the mining industry. Amendments to the Mining Act state that oversight from the Department of Environment is only required during the exploration stage. But the Environmental Protection Act stresses that both the exploration and the extraction stages require oversight from the EPA.
A report from the Majlis Research Centre – Iran’s in-house parliamentary research facility – shows contradictions and inconsistencies in the implementation of the 1390 law on the mining industry. Article 3 of the Environmental Protection Act suggests that verification of licenses for extraction of minerals depends on the approval of the Supreme Council for Environmental Protection. However, Article 16 of the amendments to the Mining Act requires the executive and legislative authorities to verify the extractions within two months.
Sand Mining and The Risk of Flooding
The process of sand mining involves mechanically dredging riverbeds that often have important buffer functions, helping to prevent erosion and lessen the risk of flooding. The destruction of riverbeds during crude sand mining operations has caused extended flooding, devastating affected areas and leading to extensive economic damage. Mohammadali Ghomi, Noshahr’s governor, has stressed the need for extensive training for companies dredging rivers near towns and villages in order to minimize flood risks.
Rahim Meidani, Deputy Minister of Energy, also stressed the need to fully implement the 1347 law on the maintenance of riverbeds in order to avoid environmental catastrophe. Meidani says that currently there are dozens of cases pending in court for dredging riverbeds. However, due to powerful industry lobbying in the government, these cases remain pending.
Following devastating floods in the northwest of Tehran, Mohammad-Hossein Bazgir, the Director of Environment in Tehran, accused the sand mining industry of violating EPA regulations and digging deeper than the appropriate limit, leading to environmental degradation and increased flood risk for residents. Ramezan Tahmasebi, CEO of Mazandaran Regional Water Activities, supported Bazgir’s claims and blamed the mining industry for destroying riverbeds and increasing the likelihood of floods in the region. Deputy Minister Meidani has proclaimed a zero-tolerance policy for companies violating regulations protecting riverbeds.
The EPA and the Department of Energy have adopted a decree providing technical supervision over the extraction of sand, gravel, and clay. The decree stresses the joint oversight of the Deputy Minister of Energy, the Ministry of Interior, and the EPA for any extraction from rivers. Any permits to continue extraction from rivers, streams, and watercourses are subject to the approval of the Department of Energy.
The prevalence of destructive floods, their association with unauthorized extractions from riverbeds, and the limited power of the EPA in implementing environmental protection laws provide strong evidence that Mr. Lashkani was incorrect in stating that the EPA has erected economically damaging regulatory barriers to sand mining companies. We rate his claim as “false.”