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NEWS: Argentine bill to protect glaciers challenges Pascua Lama mine

Reuters reports that, “An Argentine bill to protect glaciers by banning mining in ice zones” could “make it more expensive – or even impossible – for (Toronto-based) Barrick Gold Corp to develop Pascua Lama,” a massive gold mine on the Argentina-Chile border.“The Senate is weighing the politically popular bill, backed by the opposition, after the lower house of Congress passed it last week. Proponents say it is crucial to ensuring Argentina’s water supplies into the future. The bill, which also bans oil drilling on the country’s glaciers, is aimed at safeguarding Argentina’s freshwater reserves. It sets standards for protecting glaciers and surrounding areas and creates penalties for companies that pollute or damage ice fields. …President Cristina Fernandez has said she would sign the bill, even though she vetoed a similar law two years ago, citing economic grounds.”

But “mining-friendly provincial governments are already passing laws that are more flexible than the national bill, arguing they have a constitutional right to manage their natural resources. Three provinces – La Rioja, Jujuy and San Juan, site of Barrick’s Veladero and Pascua Lama mines – have passed their own laws. These say mining projects in glacial areas should be banned only if an environmental impact assessment, commissioned by the local government, shows they have an adverse effect. …A long court battle could result if the laws continue on a collision course, constitutional expert Gregorio Badeni said, adding that ultimately Congress trumps the provinces in regulating mining activity.”

“Environmentalists say studies and satellite images show Pascua Lama is located in a glacial area. Barrick disputes this, saying the ore body it was authorized to mine in Pascua Lama and its Veladero mine are not under ice fields or glaciers, so would not be restricted by the new law.” It has also been speculated that if the law is passed and Barrick cannot continue these projects it “could demand hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from the Argentine government because these mining activities were not banned when they made these investments.”

At the Peoples World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia this past April, Sara Larrain of Programa Chile Sustentable said, “Glaciers are important for Chile. They feed our springs and rivers. Without the glaciers we will be left without recharge for the rivers. Our vulnerability will increase for the cities and the rural areas. …The Canadian company Barrick Gold wanted to destroy a glacier for the Pascua Lama mining project. Mining covers the glaciers with dust which makes them melt faster, but also mining companies destroy glaciers directly. Mining is taking away the future of water. They are climate criminals. They must be sued, taken to the Climate Justice Tribunal.”

The Reuters article is at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE67G46120100817. The campaign blog ‘UPDATE: Maude Barlow speaks on glaciers and the right to water’ can be read at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3368.