May 22, 2013
Supreme Court upholds glacier law in San Juan
Earlier suspension in large mining area overruled
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that key articles of a glacier protection law should apply in San Juan province where the world’s largest gold miner, Barrick Gold Corp, is building a huge mine high in the Andes.
Yesterday’s ruling takes precedence over a 2010 decision by a federal judge in San Juan province who suspended the application of six key articles of the law following a complaint presented by mining industry groups.
“The Supreme Court revokes the precautionary measures that suspended the application of the glacier law in the province of San Juan,” legal sources reported yesterday arguing open pit mining pollutes the environment.
The ruling was praised by opposition deputies such as Julio Martínez (Radical Civic Union) y Carlos Comi (Civic Coalition), while Guillermo De Sanctis, San Juan’s prosecutor-general, said the Court “still needs to rule on the substantive issue: the claim on (the norm’s) unconstitutionality.”De Sanctis challenged the Court’s decision saying the provincial government of San Juan “will demonstrate that the national law is unnecessary,” because the provincial norm on environmental protection “is second to none in terms of glacier protection.”
Jaime Bergé, the chairman of the Mining Chamber of San Juan, agreed with De Sanctis and pointed out “the ruling will not be prejudicial to mining activity in the province” because mining companies “are not affecting glaciers, so I don’t think there will be any problem.”
The ruling, signed by Judges Ricardo Lorenzetti, Elena Highton, Carlos Fayt, Enrique Santiago Petracchi and Juan Carlos Maqueda, cleared the way to make an inventory of the country’s glaciers, as the national law states. According to the highest Court, the injunction ruled by San Juan’s federal court “is not a solution to the serious matter that has been denounced.”
San Juan is home to Barrick’s Veladero mine, which lies at an altitude of over 4,000 metre (13,000 feet) not far from the company’s huge Pascua Lama project — a roughly $5 billion gold and silver mine set to enter production in 2013. Exploraciones Mineras Argentinas SA is the other company affected by the judicial decision.
When the law passed Congress two years ago, mining industry analysts warned that it could hinder construction of Pascua Lama, but Barrick has said that it does not operate on glaciers and that it complies with all environmental regulations.
“We are in the process of evaluating the text of the decision. However, it is important to point out that our activities do not take place on glaciers,” said Rodrigo Jiménez, Barrick’s vice-president for corporate affairs in South America. “We believe we are legally entitled to continue our current activities on the basis of existing approvals.”
“The federal legislation also draws a distinction between new projects and those already underway. Our Veladero mine has been in operation since 2005 and construction at Pascua Lama has been underway since 2009,” he said.
The law, which bans mining and oil drilling on glaciers and the areas surrounding them, aims at preserving water reserves.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner vetoed a similar law in 2008 on the grounds it would hamper provincial economies, causing controversy because anti-mining sentiment is strong in the country.
Compared with neighboring Chile or Peru, Argentina’s mining industry is relatively undeveloped. That has drawn interest from global companies in recent years and overall investment reached a record US$2.6 billion in 2011.