Argentine Glacier Bill On Ice As Debate Fails
Most of Argentina's parliamentarians are backing a law which would establish the country's glaciers as "strategic reserves of water resources" and "public property."
The government (albeit reluctantly) is reported to support the move, although President Kirchner strongly opposed it two years ago.
Last week, however, the measure failed to pass Congress, because a number of members were absent from the chamber.
They were accused of "playing to the interests" of Barrick Gold, whose Pascua Lama gold project straddles the border with Chile.
Many citizens in both countries believe that a mine will do irreparable damage to the region's glaciers. See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9800
Argentine Glacier Bill On Ice As Debate Fails
Luis Andres Henao
5 August 2010
Argentina's lower house failed on Wednesday to debate a bill that would ban mining and oil-drilling on the country's Andean glaciers, angering environmentalists and supporters of the measure.
Deputies, who approved the broad outline of the bill last month, were due to vote on the details on Wednesday, but the congressional session had to be abandoned because too many lawmakers were absent from the chamber.
The bill has become a political hot potato in Argentina because President Cristina Fernandez vetoed a similar law passed by Congress two years ago.
She said the law threatened the economic development of mineral-rich provinces such as San Juan, where the world's biggest gold producer, Barrick Gold Corp, is building a large mine high in the Andes mountains.
"They were absent just to play to the interests of Barrick Gold and big miners," Deputy Miguel Bonasso, who spearheaded the bill, told reporters in Congress.
Both ruling party lawmakers and a few from the opposition were absent from the session. If the lower house eventually approves the small print of the bill, it will pass to the Senate and Fernandez has said she would not veto it this time.
The bill sets standards for the protection of glaciers and surrounding periglacial areas and lays out a system of penalties for pollution and damage to ice fields.
Lawmakers initially clashed over the details of the bill, but Bonasso -- who split from the government over the 2008 veto -- and ruling party Sen. Daniel Filmus reached an agreement to merge two slightly different versions of the proposal.
The vetoed glacier protection law raised questions over Barrick's vast Pascua Lama mine, which straddles the Chilean border at some 5,000 meters (16,440 feet) above sea level.
The Canadian company has said the project should not be affected if the glacier bill becomes law, saying Pascua Lama's ore body is not under any ice fields or glaciers.
Environmentalists, who say studies and satellite images show Barrick's new project is located in a glacial area, criticized Fernandez's veto of the original law and accused her of pandering to the interests of big business.
(Editing by Helen Popper)
Mining companies criticise Argentina glacier law
20 July 2010
BUENOS AIRES - Mining companies in Argentina have expressed disappointment after the country's Chamber of Deputies last week voted in favour of a law to protect mountain glaciers and surrounding areas from mining and industrial activity.
The Argentine Mining Companies Group (known by the acronym Gemera in Spanish), described the bill as "discriminating" and commented that it seeks to "prohibit mining activity in vast areas of the country"
In a press release signed by the industry body's president, Julio Ríos Gómez, vice-president Mario Hernández and secretary Facundo Huidobro, Gemera argued that law contains confusing points, "where there is not a correct definition of the term glacier and periglacial area".
The companies also said that the current laws already protect natural resources, especially water, and that the provinces that own these resources are responsible for administering them sustainably.
The necessary controls are already in place to protect the environment, they argued.
For example, environmental-impact assessments are already "executed in a detailed and rigorous way for each project", the group said.
The bill put before the Chamber of Deputies this week was a merged version of two previously competing laws proposed by Deputy Miguel Bonasso and Senator Daniel Filmus.
Although the basic framework of the law was approved, there are still some details that need to be worked out and voted on. That debate will take place in August.
The bill provides a basic outline for the preservation of glacial and periglacial areas, and establishes a system to assess environmental impacts and penalise polluters.
It also extends what is understood to be the periglacial area, and places strict restrictions on industrial, mining and construction activity, as well as the use of toxic substances.
Argentina glacier-protection bill one step closer to law
16 July 2010
BUENOS AIRES - A government-sanctioned bill to protect mountain glaciers and surrounding land from mining concerns and other encroachment cleared the lower house of Congress Thursday and was one step closer to becoming law.
The bill was approved by a 129-86 vote, but its 12 articles have to be debated individually before it goes back to the Senate for a final vote. The Senate has already approved unanimously a different version of the bill.
As it now stands, the lower house bill considers all Argentina's glaciers "strategic reserves of water resources" and "public property."
First presented in 2008, the glacier bill was vetoed by President Cristina Kirchner for technical reasons. Her administration now favors the Senate version over the House of Deputies' -- the difference stems in how land surrounding the glacier is defined.
The bill approved Thursday bans "mining and oil extraction" around the glaciers' mineral-rich watersheds. Opposition lawmakers tried to tweak the bill to get Kirchner's legislative faction on board but failed.
The Kirchner administration has come under opposition fire for "serving private interests" in pushing its version of the bill, with lawmakers pointing to Canada's Barrick Gold and a Chilean-Argentine joint mining venture standing to benefit from it.
Ruling Justicialista Party lawmaker Agustin Rossi, who tried but failed to delay Thursday's vote, said that unlike 2008, the government this time will accept the final version of the glacier bill.
"The president told me that whatever gets approved will not be vetoed. If this bill is ratified by the Senate, it will become the law," Rossi said, reminding reporters that the 2008 veto came in response to pressure from the governors of Andean (mountain) provinces.