File photo: GCIS

Parliament, Cape Town - Draft legislation seeking to streamline environmental licensing of the mining industry, including water-use licensing, was approved by the National Assembly on Thursday.

The National Water Amendment Bill aims to clarify the roles of various government departments on applications related to prospecting, exploration, mining and related production activities.

Once enacted, it will make the minister of water and environmental affairs the responsible authority for any appeals in this regard.

It will come into operation with the National Environmental Laws Third Amendment Bill - which was also passed by the House on Thursday - as well as other legislation to which it is linked.

Opening debate on the two bills, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told MPs that the measures formed part of government's efforts to “align and synchronise” environmental licensing processes.

Processing of licensing applications would, after such “streamlining”, take a maximum of 300 days.

“We are sending a message to (mining) investors... that we will process applications timeously through this law,” she said.

Democratic Alliance MP Francois Rogers said that while the mining sector was a massive benefit to the economy, it also had the potential to destroy the environment.

Mining waste was currently “one of the largest sources of pollution in the country”, and had reached “epidemic” proportions, he said.

The bills will now go to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.