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Environmentalists Decry Argentina Presidential Veto of Bill That Halted $2.4 Billion Mine with Chile

Latin American Herald Tribune
November 15th, 2008

Bill passed by Congress last month would have reportedly protected water supplies

BUENOS AIRES -- Environmental groups expressed their displeasure with the decision by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez to veto a glacier-protection bill that would have restricted mining and oil drilling.

The bill that was passed last month and which Fernandez vetoed on Monday would have complicated the investment plans of Canada's Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner, the environmentalists said.

The company plans to invest $2.4 billion in the Pascua Lama open-pit mine, which is one of the biggest untapped gold reserves in the world and which straddles the border between Argentina and Chile. The mine, located about 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of the northern Chilean city of Vallenar, has sparked controversy due to the mine's proximity to glaciers in that remote, mountainous region.

Raul Montenegro, president of the Environmental Defense Foundation, or Funam, said Fernandez "has made it clear that she doesn't care about the people whose water supply comes from (glacier-fed) water basins and that she is not interested in the future of the Argentine people."

In the statement, Montenegro accused the Argentine government of being part of a "power structure" that helps ensure that companies in general "don't have headaches."

Fernandez said she issued the veto because governors of Argentina's Andean provinces feared that the measure would threaten development projects, adding that it is "excessive" to prohibit mining or oil drilling on glaciers or areas that border the giant rivers of ice.

She said in her decree that signing the bill into law would "give environmental considerations preeminence" over economic activities.

The Environmental Lawyers' Association said Fernandez's veto allows "indiscriminate mining exploitation," and that the main beneficiary of the executive action is the Pascua Lama mine, "which will now be developed without any environmental consideration despite the existence of numerous glaciers in the area that is to be exploited."

"The seriousness lies in the fact this giant open-pit mining project will have an enormous environmental impact on the glaciers, causing ... them to melt, affecting a very large reservoir of water," a statement on the Argentine Web site, which alerts the public to the environmental destruction caused by different types of mining activity.

The Pascua Lama project was approved in Chile despite the opposition of environmental groups after Barrick Gold pledged not to touch the Andean glaciers that surround the mine.

It later obtained approval from Argentine authorities as well, although work on the mine has not gotten underway because of a dispute between Chile and Argentina over how to share the tax revenues from the mining project. EFE


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