Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Strategic Environmental Evaluation of mining in El Salvador

In 2010, the Salvadoran government contracted the services of the Spanish consulting firm the Tau Group, to perform a "Strategic Environmental Evaluation" of the issues surrounding the metallic mining industry in El Salvador.   The report was to provide a basis for the Funes government to develop its own policy.  To date the government's policy has consisted of a de facto ban on gold mining as the government refuses to issue new permits for the exploitation of gold resources in the country.  That ban has led North American gold mining companies Pacific Rim and the Commerce Group to sue the country in international trade arbitrations.

The evaluation report was apparently completed in September 2011, but the Funes government has delayed in making its results available.

A copy of the evaluation report has now been made public by the Roundtable Against Mining (the "Mesa").   The Mesa delivered the report to El Salvador's National Assembly, arguing that the legislature no longer had an excuse not to take up legislation which would ban all mining in the country.  

I have now read through the Tau Group report, and in my view, it is probably the best developed assessment of the issues surrounding the metallic mining industry in El Salvador.  

Here is my very high level summary of the Strategic Environmental Evaluation report:

El Salvador is in a precarious environmental position, as a densely populated country with high levels of environmental degradation and severely challenged water resources.   Metallic mining brings with it real risks of future environmental damage and social conflict.   El Salvador's government at both the national and local level lacks the institutional capacity to effectively regulate metallic mining to ensure that negative effects are avoided.   There is an absence of quality information about El Salvador's environmental resources, a lack of good laws and regulations, and a lack of coordination among government actors.    Metallic mining might bring development benefits in a country struggling with poverty and scarce resources, but the risks are real and significant.


As a consequence, El Salvador has two options.   It can pass a law prohibiting metallic mining altogether, and act to shut down the various informal mining operations which occur in an unregulated fashion in various parts of the country, or El Salvador can work towards a policy of possibly allowing a well-regulated metallic mining industry in the future, but only after there is significant strengthening of the institutional capacity of the government to regulate that industry.  

I agree with those conclusions.   It is time for El Salvador's government to begin an inclusive, transparent, democratic and careful debate about mining in the country.  

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