Looking Ahead to Improved Environmental Compliance,Wed, 10/21/2015 - 18:08
Q: What measures does PROFEPA have in place to improve the state of environmental compliance in Mexico’s mining industry?
A: Many times, companies do not comply with environmental legislation because they do not know what their obligations are. As a preventive measure, we have an agreement with some of Mexico’s industrial chambers, which sees them helping us to summon companies and educate them on their environmental obligations. We also guide them through the procedures needed to identify and solve irregularities at their operations. Furthermore, we diffuse the consequences of non-compliance after cases such as the Buenavista del Cobre incident to let companies know what can happen to them if they break the law; this is what we call dissuasion. There are other emblematic cases such as the lead contamination accident caused by Peñoles in 1992 in Torreon, Coahuila. This historic incident lead to the intervention of PROFEPA and caused the company to almost close. Today, Peñoles has improved its environmental compliance considerably and upholds a clear environmental policy. Dissuasion works, but we have to make sure to maintain it so that companies do not forget about environmental legislation in this country. While the compliance gap is still wide, it does shorten every year.
Q: Given the number of mining companies under federal jurisdiction, how will PROFEPA be able to monitor them all?
A: The purpose of our industrial inspection program is not to monitor all industrial companies. However, we will still visit all of the mining operations in the country, since this is a priority for PROFEPA. During the 22 years that PROFEPA has been operating, we have visited a great number of installations. This has made us aware of the general behavior of mining companies, and has helped us identify those that we still need to visit, those that are generally compliant with the law, and those that fail to comply with their obligations. Our priority now is to visit all the companies we have not been able to see so far. Another priority is to visit companies with a bad track record of environmental performance, followed by companies which have had severe irregularities but have solved them. The next priority is companies with minor irregularities, while the final priority is companies without a history of irregularities. On occasion, some companies do not allow us to enter into their property. In these cases, we have to seek the support of public security forces in order to enter. We may then denounce the company to the federal authorities so that they may start a judicial process against the company. We aspire to have a country where industrial companies assume their responsibilities for their own good through an effective system without impunity.
Q: What lessons did PROFEPA learn from the management of the incident at Buenavista del Cobre?
A: We learned that inter-institutional coordination is primordial for attending to these types of problems. It is necessary to work on action protocols for situations in which institutions such as CONAGUA, COFEPRIS, state and municipal authorities, SEGOB, and PROFEPA cooperate and intervene. The coordination between the governmental institutions could have been better during the Buenavista del Cobre case and can still be improved. We will thus be working on creating a more efficient and expedite inter-institutional collaboration system.
Q: What steps would you like to see the Mexican mining industry take in the near future?
A: We would like to see the number of environmental accidents caused by the mining industry clearly reduced. More mining companies should also participate in the voluntary programs that PROFEPA has in place, such as the Clean Industry program and the Program for Environmental Leadership and Competitiveness. We want the mining industry to become an avant-garde industry that collaborates with the governmental authorities in training and delves into greater social responsibility. There are clear examples of responsible behavior in the mining industry such as Fresnillo’s operations in Zacatecas. Fresnillo has a water treatment plant that treats residual municipal waters from nearby communities to use in their processes. Additionally, process waters are treated and stored in lagoons where migrating birds stop. With this in mind, we would like mining companies to attend to historical mining waste dumps and help to transform these sites into recreational or productive areas. I believe this would result in the recognition of the mining industry as a truly socially responsible industry.