Santiago, Landau 26 May 2022
On 18 May, the Corte Suprema (Supreme Court) dismissed appeals by affected citizens and environmental organisations against the ruling of the Antofagasta Environmental Court of 16 April 2021. At the time, the Environmental Court had found that sufficient information on the conditions of the sensitive ecosystem had been available during the environmental assessment of the "Dominga" mining and port project. The 3rd Chamber of the Corte Suprema apparently wanted to avoid a judgement. First the chamber initiated mediation (see article "Can it be 10 percent more destruction?"). Now, too, the court did not make a decision on the merits, but stated that the approval procedure had not yet been completed. With this reasoning, the Supreme Court left the decision to the Ministerial Committee of the Boric government.
In the case of "Dominga", Environment Minister Maisa Rojas will head the committee of ministers. In addition to her, seven other ministers are members of the committee, including Finance Minister Mario Marcel, Minister of Economy, Tourism and Development Nicolás Grau and Minister of Mines and Planning Marcela Hernando.
In a statement, Alianza Humboldt (1) regrets "that the Supreme Court has not definitively rejected the project. However, we believe that the Committee of Ministers is perfectly capable of recognising that this is a place that needs to be protected, both because of its ecosystem specificities and because of the risk that this mega-project poses to the water supply of the local population."
With the decision, the Corte Suprema also ordered the entire procedure to be reset to the previous assessment phase - voting by the COEVA of the Coquimbo region (2). The court thus left the claims of all parties (Andes Iron as well as plaintiff citizens and associations) untouched. Any party may, in respect of the decision of COEVA (2), bring such administrative actions as they deem legally appropriate before the Council of Ministers. In doing so, all sides can present the information on the background that they consider relevant to substantiate their claim.
What does it mean that the decision is being put on the back burner?
The "Dominga" project, which Andes Iron wants to sell with environmental qualifications to Chinese businessmen and others, is unlikely to become more attractive to investors as a result of the deadlocked situation. Nevertheless, it is very disturbing that judicial bodies have not been able to reach a proper and professional decision for years, even though they have long been aware of all the information regarding environmental problems, errors and irregularities in the environmental assessment. Apparently Andes Iron is exerting massive and effective influence with the support of politics. In this context, it is worth recalling that professionals and staff from SEA (3), the Ministry of Environment, CONAF (Protected Areas Authority) and Sernapesca (Fisheries Authority) have publicly rejected the "Dominga project" and condemned the pressure exerted on the bodies involved in the assessment.
translated by Claudia Wirth
(1) Members include local associations of fishermen and others, Oceana, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Defensa Ambiental, Sphenisco
(2) COEVA - Comisión de Evaluación del Impacto Ambiental (Environmental Impact Assessment Commission)
(3) SEA - System der Evaluation der Umweltbewertung (System of Environmental Assessment)