Malaysia says cross-border air pollution law still possible

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia “is not closing the door” on a law to stop cross-border air pollution, its environment ministry said on Tuesday, a day after saying it had dropped the plan.

Almost every dry season, smoke from fires to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia blankets much of the region, leading to concern for public health as well as disruption to travel and tourism businesses.

Environment groups have urged countries to adopt laws to pursue the plantation companies in foreign countries suspected of being responsible for the pollution.

In a written reply in parliament on Monday, Malaysia’s environment ministry said it would not proceed with a proposed law on trans-boundary haze, citing difficulty in enforcement and gathering evidence outside its borders.

But in a statement late on Tuesday, the ministry said it was open to enacting a law. It did not provide any specific details or a timeline, but said it was gathering feedback on measures to address the issue.

“The ministry would like to reiterate that it is not closing the door on the proposal for the enactment of legislation to address the issue of trans-boundary haze. The government is committed to preventing and mitigating this issue,” it said.

The ministry’s written reply on dropping the proposed law is still available on parliament’s website.

In the reply, the ministry said evidence such as location maps, coordinates, landowner information and companies operating in the location of fires was difficult to obtain.

It said a diplomatic approach through negotiations was a better way to “collectively address” haze coming across borders.

As air quality reached unhealthy levels, Malaysia last month called on Indonesia to stop the fires within its borders. It also asked the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which both it and Indonesia are members, to take up the issue.

(Reporting by Danial Azhar and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Jamie Freed, Robert Birsel and Barbara Lewis)