Mexico launches platform to monitor water use in mining

By Pedro Moctezuma Barragan

Furthermore, there are currently at least 74 mining projects in operation within our Protected Natural Areas, and 50% of metal mining operations in the country are carried out in unavailable aquifers. To make matters worse, under an exception regime, the use of working water is almost three times greater than the total volume of water granted to mining. All this is possible because article 6 of the current Mining Law gives this activity preference over any other use of the territory; This excess has had serious consequences for communities without water, the environment and other national productive activities. In exchange for?

In exchange for the devastation it generates and the rights it violates, “mining’s contribution to the country’s public finances and local development is minuscule and does not correspond to the damage it causes and the rights it violates,” according to the Let’s change the coalition since it made public today that in 2019, the income obtained by the federal government derived from this sector represented only 0.13% of the total collection; in 2020, mining contributed only 0.32%; and in 2021 he participated with 0.97% of the proceeds.

Given this, recent resistance in 169 communities has prevented projects from being carried out, in exhausting dynamics for everyone. Unfortunately sacrificing the freedom and even the lives of the best of its members.

We celebrate that the President of the Republic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has sent to the Chamber of Deputies an Initiative to reform the laws regulating mining, the environment, national waters, and solid waste. This package begins a transformative process that puts an end to the environmental and social devastation that mining has generated in Mexico.

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The aforementioned package has two central axes. The first seeks to recover the role of the State as guarantor of the public good over the private good. The current Mining Law considers almost the entire territory, including protected natural areas, as concessionable to the first to submit an application.

By declaring the Salinista Mining Law to mining activity as preferential over any other activity or right, it obliges the government to act against the rights of private or social owners to guarantee the concessionaire access to the lands where their concession is located. From there, the owner can explore to see what it finds, without having to share this information with the government, and can extract any valuable minerals it finds. The Mining Law also allows free trafficking and speculation with the concessions, which end up forming part of portfolios listed on the stock exchanges, without any benefit to the Nation.

Under the new proposed scheme, the Mexican Geological Service would be the one to carry out the exploration activities, and when finding any mineral of importance, it would organize a tender to be able to grant the concession to whoever offered the best conditions/benefits.

Whoever wins the tender will be able to obtain the concession once they have the environmental authorizations mentioned below as well as an authorized Social Impact Report that specifies the actions required to compensate the communities; as well as prior, free, informed and culturally appropriate consultation with the indigenous communities potentially affected, if applicable.

The mining concessions would have a duration of 15 years, extendable as long as the holder complies with the regulations. Controls are contemplated to prevent speculation dynamics with mining concessions.
The second axis establishes a regulatory environmental framework in line with the “Global Tailings Management Standard for the Mining Industry”, signed by the International Council on Mining and Metals and UNDP, with the aim of “preventing catastrophic failures and improving the safety of mine tailings facilities around the world”.

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The Global Standard requires ensuring the participation of affected people throughout the project cycle; strengthen human rights and environmental protection requirements; address risks associated with current and future tailings deposits; and ensure public access to information.

In this line, a new instrument is established, the Restoration, Closure and Post-Closure Program, which will structure the management of water cycles, the stabilization of mining waste and environmental restoration from the beginning of the activities until after their conclusion. . The obtaining and five-year extension of the water concession “for use in mining” will require demonstrating compliance with its Restoration Program and with current environmental regulations.

By eliminating the exception regime that has been extended to “farming” waters, which appear when the aquifer substrates are destroyed, for the first time mining companies will have to obtain concessions, measure and pay rights for all the water they use.

It is paradoxical that, although at this moment, the mining companies and their union argue that this regulatory framework would put the economic future of the country at risk, in reality, these reforms are in line with what the Mining Chamber of Mexico itself proposed in its Report of Sustainability 2022. They presume that using “closed circuits for the recovery and subsequent reuse of the water contained in the tailings” in order to “achieve the goal of ‘zero discharges’. They explain that “more and more mining companies are converting to dry-stacked or filtered tailings, a disposal method that is considered the best available technology for the storage of said waste, since it reduces water consumption and the risk of deposit failure.

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It is understandable that an industry that has enjoyed unimaginable privileges and a self-regulation scheme for highly risky activities would complain about a firm regulatory framework, consistent with global standards. But it will be important to relativize this period of complaints, so that they operate only under a sustainable and fair scheme, which prohibits mining concessions in areas without water availability, Protected Natural Areas, where the population is put at risk and in the ocean.

The native peoples, the communities, the movement for water, civil organizations, scientists, women and youth, in general, the defenders of water, land and life who fight for profound reforms to the Mining Law, we will be attentive of their approval.

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