Freeport-McMoRan urged to review Indonesian mining ops

WASHINGTON ~ A large US public pension fund has announced plans for a shareholder drive to press mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. to improve environmental practices at a vast mine in Indonesia.

The move, announced by New York City Comptroller William Thompson on Tuesday, came in the wake of criticism from the Indonesian government and environmental groups claiming that Freeport-McMoRan has violated environmental standards at its vast gold and copper mine in Indonesia’s Papua province.

“Freeport-McMoRan’s poor environmental record needs to be examined,” Thompson said in a statement.

“Since Freeport-McMoRan profits from its operations in Indonesia, the least the company can do is ensure that it is not causing environmental damage to the rivers and in any way harming the people of Indonesia,” Thompson said.

Thompson oversees New York City’s pension funds, which are calling on the company’s shareholders to urge Freeport-McMoRan at its annual general meeting next year to review its environmental policies in Indonesia.

Freeport-McMoRan spokesman Bill Collier said the company regularly commissions internal and external audits of its environmental practices which it has released publicly.

“We’re reviewing their shareholder proposal and we’ll respond to it in due course, but I certainly dispute the characterization of our operations. We have very strong and proactive environmental policies and environmental management programs,” Collier said.

“We get a lot of scrutiny and a lot of it is self-imposed,” Collier said.

The pension funds, which group retirement systems for city workers, teachers and police, among others, control 544,458 Freeport-McMoRan shares worth around US$29 million.

They want the mining behemoth to report back to shareholders on the environmental concerns by September 2007.

Environmental campaigners have accused Freeport-McMoRan of polluting the World Heritage-listed Lorenz National Park and have also claimed that it has dumped copper-rich ore around the edge of its Papua mining operations.

Collier said such claims were not accurate.

“Freeport-McMoRan may be adversely affecting Indonesia’s environment, the fund’s long-term share value as well as its societal license to operate in Indonesia,” Thompson added.

Freeport-McMoRan’s annual general meeting usually occurs in May, but it might be delayed in 2007 due to the company’s $25.9-billion bid to acquire US rival Phelps Dodge.

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