Colombia has granted “national interest” status to 40 large-scale mining contracts owned by multinational corporations, effectively bypassing environmental regulations.
Cerrejon, Drummond, Cerro Matoso, Eco Oro, Cosigo Frontier Mining Corp and Anglo Gold Ashhanti were among the corporations that benefited from National Mining Agency (ANM) Resolution 000592, which gave the foreign entities special permission to circumvent environmental protection laws.
The Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development is the government organization charged with designating lands for protection and enforcing environmental regulations. And on June 29, it passed — in conjunction with the Ministry of Mining and Energy, Decree 1374, designed to safeguard parks and other protected lands from mining intrusions.
But Resolution 341, passed earlier in 2013, gives the ANM the authority to declare certain projects of “national interest”, thereby superseding any restrictions on mining operations, and one week before the Ministry of the Environment released its updated map demarcating areas in which mining activity is prohibited, the government mining agency — created in November 2011 to “administer in an effective and efficient fashion the State’s mineral resources” — passed its resolution, which allows various mining projects that would have otherwise fallen within the exclusionary zone to continue moving forward.
According to Juan Camilo Granados, the vice-president for monitoring, control and mining security who signed the resolution into effect, its purpose is to ensure that it is the centralized Bogota office that “makes the decision about the project, whether its regarding social or environmental problems, or the importance of the royalties that [the mining projects] contribute [to the State].”
“The national interest classification isn’t guaranteeing or justifying that we have to execute the project,” he said, adding that one proposal in particular from Canadian company Eco-Oro, will “never obtain an environmental license” if it is found, as environmentalists fear it will be, to coincide with one of Colombia’s protected paramo territories, a type of high-altitude wetland particular to the Andes that plays an active role in regulating over 80% of the drinkable water throughout the country.
Still, activists have expressed concern over and indignation at the timing of the ANM’s resolution, its apparent lack of coordination with the Ministry of Environment and the implications the approved projects could have on the environment.
“Bye Bye to the Amazon Rainforest,” tweeted ex-minister of the environment Manuel Rodriguez, regarding the Cosigo Frontier Mining Corporation’s “special interest” project in the Colombian department of Vaupes’ Amazonian jungle.
Bye Bye a la selva amazónica: Cosigo Frontier Mining Corpration, en el Vaupés, fue declarado como proyecto minero (oro) de interés nacional.
— Manuel Rodríguez B. (@manuel_rodb) July 24, 2013
Questions have also been raised regarding the secrecy of the deliberation process, and the laxness of the qualifications for “special interest” standing.
According to the way the law is written, “special interest” projects are evaluated on the following seven considerations:
- Targeted levels of mineral production from the concession
- Technological, operational, economic and financial capacities
- Priority production for international markets
- The generation of economic resources for the State and the region in which the operations are located, such as the creation of formal jobs within the project’s area of influence
- Environmental impact of the project on a determined region
- Socioeconomic impact of the project
- Projects that supply or contribute important volumes of raw materials that contribute to the development of industry in Colombia
In a hearing closed to the public, the vice-president uses input from the companies whose projects are at stake to argue their cases to the Contracting Comittee. If the Committee feels the projects hold sufficient merit in any one of the seven areas, they can approve them, and place them under the supervision of the vice-president going forward.
Left unclear, however, are the standards being used to weigh the various factors, or the considerations that ultimately decide the proposals one way or another.
As of now, none of the 40 proposals have broken ground.