Environmental issues can include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals can also affect the health of the local population if not properly controlled. Extreme examples of pollution from mining activities include coal fires, which can last for years or even decades, producing massive amounts of environmental damage.
Mining companies in most countries are required to follow stringent environmental and rehabilitation codes in order to minimize environmental impact and avoid impacts on human health. These codes and regulations all require the common steps of Environmental impact assessment, development of Environmental management plans, Mine closure planning (which must be done before the start of mining operations), andEnvironmental monitoring during operation and after closure. However, in some areas, particularly in the developing world, regulation may not be well enforced by governments.
For major mining companies, and any company seeking international financing, there are however a number of other mechanisms to enforce good environmental standards. These generally relate to financing standards such as Equator Principles, IFC environmental standards, and criteria forSocially responsible investing. Mining companies have used this financial industry oversight to argue for some level of self-policing. In 1992 a Draft Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations was proposed at the Rio Earth Summit by the UN Centre for Transnational Corporations (UNCTC), but the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) together with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) argued successfully for self-regulation instead
This was followed up by the Global Mining Initiative which was initiated by nine of the largest metals and mining companies, and led to the formation of the International Council on Mining and Metals to "act as a catalyst" for social and environmental performance improvement in the mining and metals industry internationally. The mining industry has provided funding to various conservation groups, some of which have been working with conservation agendas that are at odds with emerging acceptance of the rights of indigenous people - particularly rights to make land-use decisions.]
Ore mills generate large amounts of waste, called tailings. For example, 99 tons of waste are generated per ton of copper, with even higher ratios in gold mining These tailings can be toxic. Tailings, which are usually produced as a slurry, are most commonly dumped into ponds made from naturally existing valleys. These ponds are secured by impoundments (dams or embankment dams). In 2000 it was estimated that 3,500 tailings impoundments existed, and that every year, 2 to 5 major failures and 35 minor failures occurred; for example, in the Marcopper mining disaster at least 2 million tons of tailings were released into a local river. Subaqueous tailings disposal is another option. The mining industry has argued that submarine tailings disposal (STD), which disposes of tailings in the sea, is ideal because it avoids the risks of tailings ponds; although the practice is illegal in the United States and Canada, it is used in the developing world.]
Certification of mines with good practices occurs through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14001, which certifies an 'auditable environmental management system'; this certification involves short inspections, although it has been accused of lacking rigor. Certification is also available through Ceres'Global Reporting Initiative, but these reports are voluntary and unverified. Miscellaneous other certification programs exist for various projects, typically through nonprofit groups.