Across Indonesia, a huge and poorly regulated coal industry has generated enormous wealth for investors but left local people behind to deal with the impacts of environmental degradation.The country’s easternmost Papua region has several untapped coal reserves. But the central government is working on a plan to open it for coal mining.An investigation into the coal industry in Horna, on the Bird’s Head Peninsula of the island of New Guinea, reveals that a company granted exploration rights in the area is closely connected to local and national power players. BINTUNI BAY, Indonesia — Residents of this part of the island of New Guinea have long known they live atop a coal deposit. Some local people recall hearing traditional stories of how the weather is hot because of the coal found deep in the bowels of the Earth. The Dutch, who controlled New Guinea’s western half for three centuries, knew it too. They identified coal deposits in what is now the Bintuni Bay district of Indonesia’s West Papua province. Even the Dutch name for Bintuni, Steenkool, which survives in the name of the local airport, referred to the reserves of coal stones they found here. But the sites were deemed too remote and difficult to mine, and they were passed over in favor of more accessible natural resources elsewhere. Today, Indonesia is in the grips of a coal boom. The country is one of the world’s biggest exporters of the commodity. Plans are also in the works to ramp up domestic consumption, with dozens of new coal-fired power plants scheduled for construction as part of President Joko Widodo’s electricity drive. So far, mining has been concentrated on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. There, companies operating amid lax government oversight have torn down rainforests, polluted water sources and grabbed land from indigenous communities. But a growing hunger for cheap energy, paired with an increasing drive to bring the country’s easternmost provinces more firmly under control of the central government, has brought renewed attention to the Papua region’s coal reserves. In West Papua province, attention has focused on Bintuni Bay, believed to hold the province’s best and largest coal deposits. Since 2009, 25 companies have received permits to explore for coal in the district, according to data from the government of West Papua province. In recent years, most of these firms’ progress through the licensing process has stalled. But according to local sources, four of these firms have gotten as far as arranging meetings with traditional landowners. An area called Horna, part of Bintuni’s Dataran Beimes subdistrict, has been identified as having the best-quality coal in the province. There, Mongabay has found a picture that will look familiar to people living near mining sites across Indonesia: The companies poised to benefit from extracting coal have close connections to both the local and national political and economic elite. One firm, PT Horna Inti Mandiri (HIM), was granted an exploration permit by a local politician, Alfons Manibui, whose brother sat on the company board. And analysis of company documents reveals a web of ties to some of the country’s most powerful political and business figures. The boards of PT HIM and its parent companies are peppered with high-profile names: Rizal Mallarangeng, a powerful politician in the influential Golkar political party who has close ties to Aburizal Bakrie, one of Indonesia’s wealthiest and most powerful men; Rizal’s brother Andi “Choel” Mallarangeng, convicted of graft in 2013; and Amir Faisal, former vice president of Bakrie Global Ventura, the mining wing of Aburizal Bakrie’s family firm. Meanwhile, the Sough tribe, traditional owners of the land for which PT HIM was given an exploration permit are among the country’s poorest and most marginalized people, and they say they have been given little information on the value of what they are giving away, or the negative impacts mining could have on their communities. Officials at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jakarta are said to be working on a map to determine exactly which areas of Papua will be opened up for coal mining. For now, mining in the province is on hold. But once the map is released, people living in the district could face a wave of exploration and speculation.