Update on anti-mining laws in ArgentinaPublished by MAC on 2016-05-26
Will Neuquen be next?
Successful civil society action against resource development potentially harmful to the environment marked the beginning of the commodities supercycle in Argentina. Only two out of nine provincial laws banning open pit mining have been repealed since 2003.
Will Neuquen be the next to pass anti-mining legislation?
Update on anti-mining laws in Argentina
Luis Manuel Claps
26 May 2016
Unlike Chile and Peru, Argentinian provinces are governed by their own constitutions, and are entitled to make their own decisions over mineral resources. Having set a neoliberal mining framework at the national level in the nineties, the so-called mining supercyle from 2002 to 2012 took diverse forms in each particular "mini-State".
Chubut province has led the movement against big mining in Argentina since 2003, when the town of Esquel became the first to hold a referendum, and pass a resolution rejecting Canadian miner Meridian Gold's open pit gold-silver project.
This successful civil action marked the beginning of the commodities supercycle and was mirrored by several social movements in other regions. As a result, to date nine provinces have enacted laws that limit or prohibit mining.
Passed thanks to the support of widespread social mobilization, these laws have been in force for over a decade. Through the years, mining promoters have challenged anti-mining legislation in the courts, but its constitutionality has been confirmed by the national Supreme Court of Justice in the case of Chubut, and by the highest provincial courts in Cordoba and Mendoza.
Only two of the nine anti-mining laws were repealed: La Rioja in 2008 and Rio Negro in 2011.
Neuquen: Anti-mining law in the making
Neuquen could be the next Argentinian province to pass a ban on open pit mining. According to Noalamina.Org, the assemblies of Chos Malal, Las Coloradas, Aluminé, Paso Aguerre, Junin de los Andes, San Martin de los Andes and the Mapuche communities of Catalan and Currumil, gathered in Alumine this month to begin developing a draft ban on large-scale mining.
A previous draft bill has been discussed and two districts approved local legislation prohibiting open pit mining last year. In November 2015, the Deliberative Council of the Municipality of San Martin de los Andes banned mining with the support of more than 1,000 residents who signed in favour of the draft ordinance. A month later, the Deliberative Council of the Municipality of Zapala did the same. Andacollo Gold, the main metal mining operation in the province, have been stalled since late 2014.
The town of Loncopue, in the south of Nequen, held a referendum in 2012 over a copper development proposed by a Chinese company. The ordinance 1054/12 prohibiting mining won by 2,125 votes to 318.
Law 5001 in Chubut
Enacted in April 2003 after the Esquel referendum, the first mining ban in Argentina prohibits open-pit metal mining and the use of cyanide in mineral concentration processes. In April 2007, a ruling by the national Supreme Court of Justice rejected a lawsuit that sought to overturn the law and upheld its constitutionality.
In 2014, the Union of Citizen Assemblies of Chubut (UAC) introduced a bill proposing the banning of mining through a Popular Initiative mechanism provided by the provincial constitution. The proposal was backed by more than 12,000 signatures. The legislation is tougher than the 5001 law because explicit other negative aspects of mining and mentions specific dangerous minerals, such as uranium.
The provincial legislature finally passed the bill, but with questionable modifications that diluted its effectiveness. The amended law has been repealed by the current government, while the assemblies claim that the original version should be considered again.
Anti-mining movements in the province remain determined. Just last week, the Chubut High Court upheld a decision by the Municipality of Esquel not to allow Minas Argentinas, a subsidiary of the project owner, Canadian Yamana Gold, to even open an office in the city centre.
For its part, Yamana Gold has insisted on building the gold mine in Esquel, but redesigned it as an underground operation without the use of cyanide. The project has been renamed "Suyai" (which means "hope" in the Mapuche language), according to a You Tube video posted in 2015.
Other projects affected by Law 5001 are the Navidad silver-lead deposit, owned by Canadian miner Pan American Silver, and the State agency CNEA´s Cerro Solo uranium deposit, both in the Meseta region.
Law 7722 in Mendoza
This law was passed in June 2007 after massive protests against mining in General Alvear, in the south of the province. It prohibits the use of chemicals, such as cyanide, mercury and sulphuric acid, in all processes of metallic mining, prospecting, exploration, exploitation and subsequent in situ industrialization of ores obtained through any extraction method.
In December 2015, after eight years of public debate and judicial battles, the Supreme Court of Mendoza confirmed the constitutionality of the ban on the use of pollutants in mining activities and dismissed a lawsuit filed by Coro Mining and other companies with interests in the province.
In August 2011, Canadian miner Coro Mining shares plunged 54% after the provincial legislature voted against an environmental approval needed to develop its San Jorge copper-gold project, located near the northern town of Uspallata.
In July 2006, the Chamber of Appeals ordered the state-owned Nuclear Commission (CNEA) not to re-open the Sierra Pintada uranium mine, which has been inactive since 1995, claiming it would be potentially harmful to the environment. A powerful coalition of vinters, organic farmers and local business people from San Rafael fought against the reopening for five years.
Tierra del Fuego, Cordoba, San Luis, Tucuman and La Pampa
The Law 853 was passed by Tierra del Fuego legislature in December 2012; it prohibits "open pit mining of metal ores" and the use of various chemicals in the process of prospecting, exploration, exploitation, processing and in situ extraction.
The law “has as its objective the application of preventative environmental and equality principles to the activity of mining as established in National Law 25.675, as well as the principle of sustainable development, established in Provincial Law 55, to guarantee the rational and rightful utilization of natural resources; protect provincial and shared water resources; maintain the balance and dynamics of ecological systems; ensure the conservation of biological diversity; prevent the toxic or harmful impacts of mining on the environment; promote ecological sustainability, economic and social development; minimize environmental risks of mining and prevent environmental crises.”
After two years of strong social mobilisation in Cordoba, legislators voted to ban metallic open-pit mines, uranium exploration and mining using toxic chemicals such as cyanide. Law 9526 was passed in September 2008. In August 2015, the Superior Court of the province upheld the constitutionality of the law.
Law 634 was passed in San Luis in October 2008. It prohibits the use of chemicals such as cyanide, mercury, sulphuric acid, ammonium carbonate and other toxic substances in the exploration, prospecting, exploitation, beneficiation and industrialization of mineral ores obtained by any extractive method.
Law 7879 was passed in Tucuman province in March 2007. It prohibits open-pit mining and the use of cyanide and mercury in mining production processes.
Law 2349 was passed in La Pampa on August 2007. It prohibits the use of cyanide, mercury, sulphuric acid and any other polluting chemical in the process of prospecting, exploration, extraction, exploitation, processing and industrialization of ores, as well as opencast metal mining.
Anti-mining laws repealed in Rio Negro and La Rioja
Passed in July 2005, Law 3981 prohibited the use of cyanide and mercury in the extraction, exploitation and industrialization of metal ores in Rio Negro. Earlier in November 2004, the municipality of Sierra Colorada sanctioned a decree prohibiting the use of cyanide, as well as all toxic or dangerous substances, and "mechanisms and techniques" that "contaminate or damage the environment" in mining activities.
"We will not risk the health of even one person in Rio Negro just to extract more grams, kilos or tons of gold," said Governor Miguel Saiz, in his announcement on provincial radio and television networks and Aquiline Resources' Calcatreu project EIS was rejected.
The law was then repealed by the newly elected Governor: in December 2011, Rio Negro's provincial legislature passed Law 4738, which allows for the use of sodium cyanide in gold mining. As a response, some 3,000 protesters marched in the streets of Bariloche against open pit mining the following week.
Passed in March 2007, Law 8137 prohibited opencast mining by cyanide leaching, mercury and any other chemicals in La Rioja province. But Governor Beder Herrera's position on mining shifted since coming into office, breaking ties with the popular assemblies and ordering the repeal of the anti-mining law in July 2008.
In January 2012, an estimated 10,000 people marched on the Governor's office in the capital of La Rioja, calling for Canadian miner Osisko's contract to be cancelled. In response, the Governor suspended the Canadian company's gold mine lease in the Famatina region.