Chile indigenous seeks Pascua-Lama permit be axed: lawyer

A Chilean indigenous group has appealed a lower court decision on Barrick Gold Corp's Pascua-Lama gold mine to the Supreme Court and asked it to strike down the project's environmental license, a lawyer representing the group told Reuters on Monday.


"Given the harm caused, this environmental permit has proved itself to be illegal and illegitimate," Lorenzo Soto said. "The project has to remain suspended until it is completely re-evaluated."


He estimated the top court could rule around the end of the year.


The Copiapo Court of Appeals last week ordered a freeze on construction of the $8.5 billion project, which straddles the Chile-Argentine border high in the Andes, until the company builds infrastructure to prevent water pollution.


The indigenous Diaguita group Soto represents has deemed the measures insufficient.


Chile's environmental regulator had already suspended Pascua-Lama, citing major environmental violations, and asked Barrick to build canals and drainage systems.


The project's supporters say its environmental impact will be limited, and that the massive mine will provide employment and help boost Chile's mining-dependent economy.


Environmental and social groups counter the mega mining project will damage pristine glaciers, strain and pollute water supply and harm agricultural activity in the area.


Barrick has said it is committed to meeting all the regulator's requirements. It did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday.




The Andean country's complex legal system and new environmental regulator makes it tricky to anticipate what will happen to Pascua-Lama, originally forecast to produce 800,000 to 850,000 ounces of gold per year in its first five years of full production.


And while courts have taken a tougher stance on permitting for planned major energy and mining projects in Chile, Pascua-Lama's construction is well under way.


But experts agree the world's top gold miner is facing a protracted legal battle in Chile, where Pascua-Lama is one of the most unpopular mining projects.


"It's hard to predict what the Supreme Court will do," said Paulina Riquelme, a lawyer who specializes in environmental law. One possibility is that the courts decide "to wait and see how Pascua-Lama meets the environmental requirements imposed by the regulator."


source : Mapuche mailinglist in English/Dutch


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