Chile eyes new push on a glacier protection law

Thu Mar 5, 2015 11:13am EST
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SANTIAGO, March 5 (Reuters) - The Chilean government and congressional lawmakers agreed this week to work together to try to pass legislation to protect the country's glaciers, a move that could hinder development of mining projects in the world's No. 1 copper exporter.

The proposed bill would prohibit commercial activity on glaciers in national parks. The parks contain about 80 percent of the glaciers in the Andean country.

Environmentalists argue that glaciers should be protected for future generations. Most glaciers in South America are already receding due to higher temperatures linked to global warming.

A glacier protection law, however, could impede construction of large mining projects high in the Andes or imply higher costs to meet regulations.

One project that has already faced fierce opposition from environmentalists who say it will damage glaciers is Barrick Gold's Pascua-Lama gold mine. The project is on hold for the foreseeable future, stymied by a host of factors including environmental regulations.

State-run Codelco has also faced criticism for its plan to expand its Andina copper mine near the nation's capital, Santiago, which it has said will not affect white ice glaciers but may have an impact on a number of rock glaciers.

Permits that have already been issued could not be revoked under the proposed law, but new measures to mitigate the impact of projects can be introduced.

The bill was first introduced into Congress last year but has since foundered. Although the center-left government commands a majority in both houses, it has a heavy reform schedule and there is no guarantee that the bill will become law.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Peter Galloway)