La Serena 15th of August 2021.
On Wednesday, 11th of August 2021, the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment (COEVA) of the Coquimbo region approved - to the astonishment of the whole country - in an extraordinary session, with 11 votes in favor and one against, the mining and port project Dominga of the company Andes Iron. This is despite the fact that four civil society organizations have appealed to the Corte Suprema (Supreme Court) against the ruling issued in this matter by the Antofagasta Environmental Court in April of this year. The Supreme Court's decision is still pending. This is the first time that this commission has approved a project without waiting for the decision of the Corte Suprema.
The Antofagasta Environmental Court accepted the mining company's appeal and ordered the COEVA (Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment) to revote on the project based on the previous assessment report (ICE). In other words, to repeat the vote and overturn the two rejections of the project, the first in March 2017 by the regional government and the second in August of the same year by the Committee of Ministers (note1).
To make clear the great importance of Wednesday's COEVA vote and decision, and to understand why this irregular operation represents a renewed and perhaps more serious threat to the "Humboldt Archipel" ecosystem in the community of La Higuera, it is necessary to state some facts:
- Pablo Hermann, President Piñera's appointee (new position since the 2021 reform regarding governors) was the only one who voted against the project. His reasoning: he opposes the "Dominga Project" until it is limited to one port of loading in the Coquimbo region. He asked the companies (Andes Iron and Compañía Minera del Pacífico (CMP)) to agree to operate only one port in the area. That means, the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment (COEVA) supports and promotes the Cruz Grande port in Chungungo of the company CMP. This port was also approved in 2015 under political pressure with numerous irregularities, like the port of Dominga.
- It should be borne in mind that the construction permit for the Cruz Grande Port has since lapsed, as construction did not begin within the 5-year period provided for in the environmental law. Nevertheless, the company insists that the permit is still valid.
- The Dominga Project was and is now being approved again on the basis of a professional opinion prepared in March 2017, four and a half years ago. The opinion was prepared by professionals in Santiago and was designed to favor the approval of the project. The expertise of the responsible experts in the region was not only not taken into account, it was deliberately bypassed.
- The COEVA (Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment) was convened by the president Piñera's designee. It consists of ten regional ministerial secretaries, all appointed by the current president. Until 2010, the president was also the majority owner of Andes Iron. He is a close friend of the current owner, Carlos Delano, who was sentenced to 99 hours of ethics courses for repeated tax violations.
- The question remains as to what the responsible parties will do to enable the company Andes Iron to abandon the planned port in Totorallo Norte, as announced. To do this, it is necessary to circumvent institutional conditions, since environmental law requires that the environmental impact assessment process be restarted when a project is modified.
- The environmental impact assessment system has yielded to the pressure of the mining company and the current government agencies in favor of private interests and to the detriment of nature and people. The threatened marine protected areas are of inestimable and irreplaceable value, they are globally crucial for biodiversity. The realization of the mine project also has serious consequences on land. It can cause the groundwater to dry up irreversibly. This would damage habitats of plants and animals of great biological importance and deprive the population of access to water for daily and agricultural needs.
What happens next?
There are 2 parallel ways.
Civic organizations and Oceana appealed the Antofagasta Environmental Court's ruling in favor of the Dominga project to the Supreme Court in April of this year. The court's decision is still pending. In addition, civil society groups will take legal action against COEVA's approval of the project.
It is important to clarify that the project has already been rejected by two official instances and is currently still under review at the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the appeals, the 11th of August vote will be invalid.
The approval of the project on 11th of August in no way implies a building permit. It only enables the processing of sectoral permits.
Community civil societies and environmentalists are determined not to give up until the plans "Dominga Mine" cease to exist. They call on citizens not to be deceived, to remain extremely alarmed and active. The decision of the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment is a national disgrace, even more so considering that we are in a climate crisis.
(1) see article "Waiting for a decision" of April 25, 2021 with " Declaration of 21 April 2021".
Protests and actions against the decision
Landau, 18th of August 2021. During the decision on August 11, Alianza Humboldt and Defensa ambiental 4th region demonstrated in front of the regional government headquarters in La Serena and read a declaration. Many organizations and institutions reacted quickly and published protest notes, including. CONAF, Coquimbo Region (Corporación Nacional Forestal, responsible for conservation), FENATRAMA - workers of the Ministry of Environment and SEA (responsible for environmental impact audits), ANFUMMA - Association of Officials of the Ministry of Environment, Sernapesca, Coquimbo Region (Servicio Nacional de Pesca y Acuicultura, Fisheries Agency), the National Servicio de Evaluación Ambienta (SEA, responsible for environmental impact audits), National Park workers, Union of copper miners. In the past, there were no such public protests from authorities and public service employees. They mark a new quality of public discussion in Chile.
The following actions are planned for the next few weeks:
- Handing over a letter of protest to the Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment,
- Demonstration in front of the office of the company Andes Iron with delivery of a letter,
- Funeral procession from Chanaral de Aceituno to La Serena (distance 120 km!),
- Action days in all coastal villages of the municipality of La Higuera,
- weekly information stand on Av. Francisco de Aguirre in La Serena,
- Online and live concerts in support of the protests.
Analyzing the approach and public relations of Andes Iron, the following assumption suggests itself: The company is keen to launch the port and mining project during President Piñera's term in office if possible. Chile's elections are in November 2021, with the inauguration of the new president in March 2022. It is not possible to conclude the legal disputes in the remaining 6 months. If the "Dominga" project is to be launched during President Piñera's term in office, this will only be possible if laws and institutional conditions are once again circumvented. The call not to be fooled, to remain extremely alarmed and active is probably more than justified.
translated by Claudia Wirth
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