The verdict is in, and it does not look good for miners in Argentina.
In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, Argentina’s Supreme Court rejected a challenge to an environmental law banning mining in glacial areas that was brought by Barrick Gold. The Canadian miner had attempted to subvert Argentina’s controversial Glacier Protection Law prohibiting mining in glacier and permafrost areas.
Barrick owns the Veladero gold mine in Argentina and the Pascua-Lama project on the Argentine-Chile border.
The company did not issue a statement, but a Barrick source with knowledge of the matter said the court’s decision would not affect any of the company’s current operations in Argentina. The source, who said Barrick would “analyze” the ruling, spoke anonymously, Reuters reported.
“Miners have long marked this region for its rich gold, silver and copper deposits, and have been on standby for nearly a decade awaiting a judicial decision from Argentina’s top tribunal as to whether or not they could mine in glacier terrain,” said Jorge Daniel Taillant, executive director, Center for Human Rights and Environment in a media statement.
McEwen Mining’s Los Azules, Stillwater’s El Altar, and Meryllion Gold’s Cerro Amarillo are a few other mining projects that stalled when Argentina passed the world’s first Glacier Protection Law, prohibiting any industrial activity that could harm glaciers and periglacial areas.
“The Argentine Glacier Law was passed in 2008, unanimously by Congress, when then activist Environment Secretary Romina Picolotti, brought the draft law through Congress with no opposition whatsoever,” Taillant said.
Then President Fernández de Kirchner vetoed the new Glacier Law on the grounds that it was detrimental to the mining sector.
Environmentalists fought for the return of the Glacier Law, and in 2010 Congress passed a national Glacier Protection Law, prohibiting mining and oil and gas projects in glacier and permafrost areas, making the law retroactive.
In 2015 Chile’s Environmental Court ruled that the Pascua-Lama project had not damaged glaciers within the project’s area of influence.
Argentina’s public officials in the mining sector, and environmental authorities took nearly 10 years to carry out the glacier inventory which the law called for, and failed to crack down on mining operations already in glacier areas, which the law also mandated.
“Sure that the court system would take years, or even decades to rule on the case, pro-mining public officials went about their business as if the Glacier Law did not exist, encouraging mining companies to move forward with investments, although the billions of dollars promised by mining companies to extract gold, silver and copper, did not materialize,” Taillant said.
Argentina’s Supreme Court knocked down the miner’s arguments, maintaining that the company failed to show that the Glacier Protection Law affected mining investments.
“The request of Barrick to declare the unconstitutionality of the national regulations has been a perverse move that fortunately lost. Now, it is necessary to enforce the law and close Veladero. We can not allow more mining on the glaciers of the Argentines, “ said Gonzalo Strano, a Greenpeace Argentina spokesperson in a media statement.
Tuesday’s ruling halts 44 mining projects nearby or on bodies of ice that are being evaluated, according to the National Secretariat of the Environment.