JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has declared coal ash is no longer a hazardous waste product, despite containing heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic, in a nod to industry efforts for greater deregulation.

Fly ash and bottom ash from the burning of coal in power plants or other industrial facilities are now deemed inert or non-hazardous waste, under a new government regulation issued Feb. 2. The regulation is a derivative of the so-called omnibus law on job creation — a controversial package of deregulation measures passed by parliament last October that activists warned would serve the interests of the mining and “dirty energy” industry.

The distinction is crucial, as the handling of hazardous waste is subject to different and far more stringent regulations.

“The decision to erase these coal wastes from the list of hazardous waste is problematic and a very bad news for the sustainability of the environment and public health,” Trend Asia, an NGO that advocates for wider use of clean energy, said in a statement March 10.

“Coal wastes are highly toxic to the environment and public health as they contain chemical compounds such as arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, etc.,” it added.

Coal accounts for the majority of Indonesia’s power generation at present and is expected to continue dominating the energy mix until at least 2025.

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