Image credits: Scott Graham

Permits: Best Practice or a Barrier?

By Paloma Duran | Wed, 09/01/2021 - 12:09

Moving from exploration to production in Mexico’s mining industry is increasingly challenging, partly because of the difficulty in obtaining permits as the authorities raise the bar for a more sustainable industry. What is unclear is whether the tightened standards are truly linked to the desire to implement best practices or borne of misconceptions surrounding the industry.

“In Mexico, mining projects are paralyzed for two main reasons. The first is because of the difficulties in obtaining concessions and the second is that there are several MIAs paralyzed at SEMARNAT," says Fernando Alanis, President of CAMIMEX.

President López Obrador has reiterated on several occasions that his government will not grant concessions and permits because the industry has seriously affected the environment and communities, with its wealth only benefitting private companies. “In the past, many concessions and permits were granted to foreign companies. We are not going to continue giving concessions or permits that go against the environment. Mining companies must act righteously; taking care of the environment and not destroying the territory,” said López Obrador on March 11, 2021.

Minister of SEMARNAT María Luisa Albores adds that while mining is a fundamental economic activity for the country, it has a significant impact on the environment and communities. As a result, the government has an obligation to regulate the activity. “Mining has caused several socio-environmental conflicts. Previously, with the complicity of governments, mining companies have devastated ecosystems and hydrological basins, polluting entire regions and directly affecting the health of inhabitants.” Albores says that SEMARNAT will carry out follow-up visits to mining projects, reformulate the technical committee of the Mining Trust to do remediation work and provide health assistance and investigate complaints against public authorities. "The mining of the future in Mexico will respect the environment, consult the communities, respect their will and provide fair taxes."

Miguel Ángel Lucero, Senator and President of the Senate’s Ordinary Commission of Mining and Regional Development, says that in recent years, nongovernmental organizations and indigenous communities have protested against mining mainly because of the violation of their right to be consulted on projects that can affect their lives. “Trends in environmental protection and conservation have led to legislative proposals with a focus on sustainable development, which provide a new perspective on what the new Mexican mining industry should be like, prioritizing citizen participation, care for the environment and social responsibility toward the communities,” says Lucero.

SEMARNAT has sought to strengthen communities’ role in decision-making regarding new mining projects. For the MIA of Minera y Metalúrgica El Boleo that was requested in 2019 to cover an additional 446ha in Baja California Sur, SEMARNAT carried out a consultation in which 2,481 citizens participated, resulting in 89 percent of the votes in favor of the project. SEMARNAT said the consultation had no binding effect on its decision. However, on June 27, 2021, the company's MIA was approved.

Operators’ View

CAMIMEX members have rejected the government’s accusations, arguing that mining respects and promotes environmental and community protection norms. The chamber has said that it is aware of the negative impacts resulting from mining if the industry is left unchecked and, as a result, its members invest in resource optimization, including water and energy, through the implementation of modern technologies that help to conserve biodiversity.

Furthermore, mining is among the most regulated industries in Mexico, abiding by the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, the General Law of Prevention and Integral Management of Waste, the Federal Law of Environmental Responsibility, the General Law of Climate Change and the Law of National Waters. The industry also complies with SEMARNAT’s standards regarding hazardous waste, wastewater discharge and hydrocarbon limits in the soil, among others, as well as other standards related to direct exploration, tailings dams and gold and silver leaching, all of which seek to lessen the environmental impact.

“Past mining practices are not the same as current practices and the laws and circumstances have also changed. The past must be judged based on facts from the past and we must learn for the present and move forward toward a better future. Public policies on mining should be aimed toward strengthening the activity within the existing legal framework, the application of the rule of law and respect for human rights. Trying to ban mining would be like denying the very essence of the country,” says Karina Rodríguez Matus, Partner at Rodríguez, Matus & Feregrino.

Recently, Minera Cuzcatlán aimed to regularize its work at its San Jose mine through a MIA permit, which was denied by SEMARNAT. The Ministry stressed that the company should have presented an in-depth analysis of the results of its programs and measures it has implemented to ensure that its activity will not cause harmful ecological impacts. Minera Cuzcatlán stated that its MIA met all the requirements and filed a review appeal detailing the reasons why the application should be reevaluated.

Alanis says that several accusations have been made without an in-depth understanding of the mining sector or having reliable data to support these claims. As a result, the president of CAMIMEX asked environmental authorities to open a dialogue to understand the reasons why permits are being withheld and to address the issue of MIAs in limbo at SEMARNAT. CAMIMEX has also invited authorities to visit mining operations to see the true image of mining, which it says has generated well-being for more than 14.832 million Mexicans in over 690 communities.

Efraín Alva Niño, Director of the Extractive Industries Unit of the Ministry of Economy, told MBN that although there will be no new permits, the Ministry is asking the government to allow work to continue with existing permits. Meanwhile, José Jabalera Batista, Head of the Mining Department of the Ministry of Economy, assured that his area, “is supporting mining companies because we are interested in making concessions work. We have the door open to unblock these situations."

The country’s mining sector has come a long way and is now a modern industry that actively contemplates its impact, according to experts. “Thirty years ago, environmental restrictions were pretty much non-existent in our country.  Today, I can confidently say that we have a modern and environmentally friendly mining industry that complies with very high standards and strict obligations. We have the great task of communicating our modern vision of a socially responsible mining industry that actively and constantly promotes the well-being of the environment, workers and their families and of neighboring communities,” says Juan E. Pizarro-Suárez, Managing Partner at Pizarro-Suárez & Bandala.


The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Gobierno de México, BNamericas, El Economista, MBN, CAMIMEX
Photo by:   Scott Graham
Paloma Duran Paloma Duran Junior Journalist and Industry Analyst