MAC/20: Mines and Communities

ARGENTINA

Published by MAC on 2006-11-02

ARGENTINA

Lawmakers in Argentine province threaten mine ban

2nd November 2006

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) - Lawmakers in an Andean province of Argentina have threatened to ban all mining activity on environmental grounds, sparking protests from companies and miners.

The legislature in Mendoza voted on Wednesday to give the province's government 30 days to present a plan to safeguard the environment from mining projects in the region, famed for its vineyards and ski resorts.

"They should have devised an environmental plan for the mining industry 14 years ago. If they don't do it within the next 30 days, we'd have to suspend (mining) activity," Diego Arenas, a deputy from the Democratic Party, told Reuters on Thursday.

Mendoza is home to several mining projects including the Sierra Pintada uranium mines, and the world's No. 2 miner Rio Tinto expects to start work on a $735 million potash mine on the province's southern border in 2007.

Mining companies and mine workers are angry at the lawmakers' threats, and local newspaper Los Andes said nearly 400 miners staged a protest outside the province's lower house of parliament during Wednesday's session.

"It's unconstitutional to try to ban mining ... it's the government that has to undertake the environmental plan," said Roberto Zenobi, president of the Mendoza Chamber of Mining Businesses (CAMEM).

"There's no need to be foolish and say 'no' to mining, what's needed are limits," said Ricardo Schkop, president of the Southern Multisector organization, which includes farmers and business groups.

Mining investment has grown in Argentina in recent years, driven by higher global metals prices and lower costs since the peso was devalued sharply against the dollar during an economic crisis in the in 2001-2002.

Copper and gold are among the South American country's biggest mineral exports and official figures predict investment in the sector will top $6 billion between now and 2010.

However, the boom has provoked several protests by local and environmental groups opposed to mining projects.

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