After Chile’s Committee of Ministers unanimously rejected Andes Iron’s Dominga copper and iron mining project, the company accused it of political bias. The proposal was rejected because of its expected impacts on an important area for biodiversity and marine life. Activists cheered the decision; the company will appeal.
On Jan. 18, Chile’s Ministers of the Environment, Health, Economy, Energy and Mining, voted unanimously to reject Andes Iron’s US$2.5 billion Dominga copper and iron mining project after a 10-year vetting process. The Environment Minister, Maisa Rojas, said the committee turned down the project after considering impacts on wildlife, water sources, air quality and marine-protected areas.
“The evaluation was made considering multiple aspects that had to be evaluated, multiple reports that had to be considered,” Rojas said, as reported by Reuters. “It was a robust decision.”
In response, Andes Iron slammed the Committee of Ministers of political intervention. “We are not surprised by the result, considering the political intervention of the Committee of Ministers.” In a statement, the company run by the Délano family, announced that it will appeal to environmental courts to overturn the decision.
The Dominga mining project
The Dominga port mining project is targeted for the municipality of La Higuera, 500km (310 miles) north of Chile’s capital, Santiago.
Critics claim the project would cause undue damage to nearby environmentally-sensitive areas, which include a nature reserve encompassing three islands that are home to 80 percent of the world’s Humboldt penguins (an endangered species), whales, sea lions, and the world’s smallest otter species.
Andes Iron has repeatedly rejected these claims. “The Dominga project doesn’t just comply, but exceeds all standards and is aligned with principles established by the government for sustainable industrial and mining projects,” its statement said.
Protesters for and against the project gathered outside the ministry early on Jan. 18 in anticipation of the decision.
The legal back-and-forth brought the case to Chile’s top court last May, with appeals filed by communities and environmentalists against the mining project. The court turned down the appeals, saying a final decision needed to be made by the government.
Environmental activists applauded the ministries’ decision. “I’m defending my home, the place where I live, which is pristine,” Maud Ferres, an activist who opposed the project and had traveled to Santiago to hear the decision, told AFP.
However, Alexis Sánchez, spokesman for a community association in La Higuera, said the project would have provided economic opportunities for 3,700 people. “This is a project we want to achieve our goal to stop being one of the poorest municipalities in the country,” he told AFP. He said that if the project had been approved, it would have involved the extraction of 12Mt/y and 150,000t of copper over 22 years, making it the biggest such venture in the country. The company also promised to create 10,000 direct jobs and 25,000 indirect ones during its construction phase, and 1,500 direct and 4,000 indirect ones once in operation.
The legal battle over Dominga has also drawn fire from the business community and conservative politicians, who say politics have played an outsized role in the process. Dominga has become a symbol of the difficulties some major projects have had with permitting in recent years in mining powerhouse Chile.
At a press conference, Economy Minister Nicolas Grau rejected the idea that the decision would affect foreign investment in Chile, highlighting that the country is the world’s top copper producer.
Carmen Critelli is an intern at Chile Today. She has recently completed her bachelor’s degree in European Studies from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. During her studies and journalistic experience, she specialised in migration/immigration issues, poverty and sustainability.