Lithium expansion hits political crossroad

SANTIAGO – The Piñera administration plans to extend lithium mining in Chile. President-elect Gabriel Boric’s advisors met with the outgoing administration earlier this week to discuss the incoming administration’s concerns. Meanwhile, a protest against the plan has been called for Jan. 7.

For President Sebastian Piñera, expanding the lithium tender is essential “for the world to come.” In October 2021, the outgoing president put out an invitation for private companies to bid on the expansion of lithium production. In his final months in office, he seeks to go ahead with the extension.

President-elect Gabriel Boric´s advisors met with the current administration on Wednesday, Jan. 5, to discuss their concerns over the new plans. During his election campaign, Boric promised to tackle climate-related issues through increased action and policies. His advisors expressed a lack of national policy regarding the matter, echoing Boric’s proposal of a national lithium mining company.

In a series of oppositions this week, lawmakers lodged objections with a Santiago  appellate court, to try to stop the bids. Members of the Christian Democrat party also introduced a bill preventing incumbent presidents from extending invitations for new mining bids in their last three months in office. Other politicians called for a “March for Lithium” protest against the proposed plans, which is set for today, Jan. 7.

Piñera’s plans would see the production of lithium increase to 400,000 metric tons a year. Chile was once the world’s largest producer of lithium, possessing 40 percent of the world’s lithium reserves. It now finds itself second behind Australia, which Piñera says is a result of Chile’s “stagnant” production of the mineral. He argues that there is also increased competition in lithium mining with neighboring nations such as Argentina and Bolivia entering the market.

The outgoing president also defended the call to increase lithium extraction in the nation’s mining sector and claimed that production was not the sole purpose of the plans. “Either we leave it underground, or we use it for the benefit of Chileans.”

Dominga Mining Project could spell disaster for vulnerable wildlife 

Ecological woes

When it comes to “phasing down” the use of fossil fuels to fight climate change, lithium is vital in the move to green energy. It is used to make batteries that power electric vehicles, so it is only natural that demands for the metal have risen as electric vehicle production has increased.

Mining and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet supports the government plans, stating that Chile is currently “missing the opportunity,” when it comes to lithium extraction.

However, privatization in the mining sector and of water rights have also led to tensions between Piñera’s administration and Chile’s indigenous peoples. Poor water management has led to indigenous communities experiencing water shortages with many watercourses being contaminated with harmful by-products. The disregard of indigenous peoples in relation to climate issues has been a highlight of the drafting of the new Constitution which will be presented in the second half of the year.


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