MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining Legacies, New Legislation and La Oroya Diario La Republica Peru,

Published by MAC on 2005-10-28

Mining Legacies, New Legislation and La Oroya Diario La Republica Peru,

Friday October 28, 2005

By Jose De Echave, Network Muqui-Cooperacción

One of the best things about the controversy generated by the new Law of the Environment has been that it has begun to affect public opinion about a problem that is begining to take a heavy toll. An effective policy of environmental protection is a necessary priority for a country like Peru; it is by no means a first world luxury. The fact that the country needs investment is no reason to do away with a rigorous environmental legal framework; and the types of investment that would demand lesser protection are not needed, neither here nor in any place in the world.

The debates also shows the influences of the principal economic players, and the idea that they are promoting: that nothing needs to be changed. Obviously there is still a huge gap between words and practice: looking the web pages of almost all the companies, one would believe that they pride themselves as operating under the best international standards; however, the leading industry labor unions have not been able to secure key agreements, such as the adoption of World Health Organization standards, so this seems to be a bit of a contradiction. Generally, the maximum permitted emissions limits set by Peruvian laws are still very far away from international standards, as shown by the Public Ombudsperson's office, they are too lax.

But if there still persists any doubt over the necessity to develop a set of real environmental policies, standing mutely and unresolved is the issue of environmental legacies (environmental damages) throughout the country. For example, the Ministry of Energy and Mining informs us that there are 610 legacies valuing $200 million dollars. The Ombudspersons office says that this amount is undervalued and some estimate that up to a billion dollars will be needed to resolve them. [See article below].

Adding to the challenge for environmental controls in the country is the issue of the serious impacts on health, such as are occuring in communities such as La Oroya. Therefore, it shouldn't pass unnoticed that recently public hearings have begun to the lengthening of the environmental compliance timeline of mining investments. Doe Run is one of the companies which is seen as incompliant with their Quality Assurance and Environmental Managment Program, and has threatened, openly and publicly, to leave the country and close their operations if the Ministry of Energy and Mining does not lengthen the timeframes for their environmental compliance.

It's not that they should leave. They should stay, while obeying Peruvian law and their environmental obligations, without which their operations will continue having a tremendous impact on the health of the residents of this region. They should do the same thing as in Missouri, when the environmental authorities of the USA obligated them to meet standards, to comply with their stated plans of quality assurance and investment, and even made them compensate the affected communities. In that situation it was the reverse: The North American authorities gave the company an ultimatum, and if they didn't meet it, they would shut down the operations. They had no option but to comply.

Not even the best laws help if they are not applied. The new environmental legislation will have to demonstrate that it can be effectively applied. If the mining companies have understood the messages of the many environmental conflicts that have occurred in recent years in this country, they should be interested in a radical change not only in their image, but above all, in their behaviour.

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