Chile to triple fines for environmental damages, infractions

In 2018, Chilean authorities ordered the “total and definitive” closure of Pascua-Lama on their side of the border over environmental issues. (Image courtesy of Ausenco)

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has submitted a series of modifications to a bill introduced earlier this year which would set stiffer fines and jail time for serious violations of the country’s environmental rules.

The proposed law would make it a crime to mislead environmental inspectors or to obstruct the enforcement of environmental regulations in the world’s top copper producing country.

As part of the amendments, the government has tripled the related fines up to $215,000 from a previous cap of $70,000 and also defined the scope of what would be considered environmental damage.

The new law would also empower local and regional authorities to more closely supervise mitigation efforts of projects that could potentially damage the environment

Jail time has been kept at a maximum of two months.

The new law would also empower local and regional authorities to more closely supervise mitigation efforts of projects that have the potential to pose serious environmental threats.

Most environmental crimes in Chile are currently handled by civil or environmental tribunals, or through out-of-court settlements with regulators.

The ex-prosecutor for the Ministry of the Environment, Jorge Cash, said that while the changes point in the right direction, they only apply to companies and not to its top executives.

“The proposed law lacks of means to attribute criminal responsibility to managers,” Cash told local newspaper La Tercera. “Without that, the most affected executives with be the middle men, not the decision makers.”

Chile has a history of imposing hefty fines on miners that breach environmental regulations. In 2015, the Superintendence of the Environment (SMA) ordered Lumina Copper to pay $11.9 million for infractions to the provisions established in its mining permit, including failure to implement mitigation measures to prevent the contamination of underground water supplies 

At the time, it was the second-highest fine the SMA had imposed since it was created in 2012.

The largest penalty until then — $16 million — was issued in 2013 to Barrick Gold’s (TSX:ABX) (NYSE:GOLD) now shelved Pascua Lama gold and silver mine.

The amended initiative would need to pass both chambers of Chile’s Congress before becoming law.

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