Colombia’s coal industry on Tuesday called on the new energy and environment ministers to improve their coordination of the fast-growing but increasingly criticized mining industry.
Colombia’s oil and mining boom has created an unprecedented number of mining and environmental requests, straining institutions at a time when Latin America’s No. 4 oil producer is trying to balance the environment and commodity extraction.
“We cannot look for development at the expense of the environment, but at the same time we cannot live in a country of birds and frogs where people cannot put food on the table,” Leon Teicher, president of Colombia’s largest coal exporter Cerrejon, said on the sidelines of a coal conference. “That balance is only going to come from good, careful coordination and good decisions by the two ministries.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos this week announced new energy and environment ministers in a shake-up of his cabinet that has included the resignation of the defense minister after only a little over a year in office. Colombia’s energy ministry has been under pressure from a series of high-profile accidents and problems in the mining sector while the environment ministry has been criticized for delays in decision making on environmental license requests.
The Andean country – one of the world’s most biodiverse nations – is raking in billions of dollars in foreign investment, mainly in oil and mining, as security improves thanks to a U.S.-backed crackdown on rebels and drug lords.
Santos’ government is trying to overhaul the mining sector to deal with institutional weakness and wide-spread illegal mining at a time when production of oil, coal and other minerals are hitting historic highs and are expected to keep rising.
“The government’s ability to meet future production targets will depend on whether it can improve inter-institutional coordination and iron out conflicting permitting and environmental regulations,” Eurasia Group said in a note.
Santos plans to launch a new national mining agency to handle thousands of new mining requests and monitor the sector, and modify a mining law after a court struck it down. Colombia is quickly approaching 1 million barrels per day of oil production after years of declining output, and coal output has hit the highest levels in its history.
But outside the major producers, Colombia’s energy and mining sector has been hampered by infrastructure deficiencies and environmental concerns over concessions in a sector Santos calls one of the “locomotives” of growth.
Change in the sector has been rapid. “(We’d say) the same thing we’ve told previous ministers, a little more slowing in the implementation or the construction of these tracks for the mining locomotive,” said Claudia Jimenez, head of the Large Scale Mining Sector industry group.