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Why Is Mining So Reviled in Mexico?

By Jesús Enrique Pablo-Dorantes - Hoocax
Expert in Environmental Impact, Soil and Groundwater Pollution


By Jesús Enrique Pablo-Dorantes | Chairman of the Advisory Board - Mon, 05/29/2023 - 12:00

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At the time of writing, the Mining Law initiative had already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies and sent to the Senate, where the Mining and Legislative Studies Commissions approved the ruling to be submitted to the Plenary.

The Mining Sector was once again deceived when, innocently, the Energy Commission of the Chamber of Deputies announced that the discussion on the initiative would be postponed until the next ordinary period of sessions of the Congress, , .

Just three days after providing that breathing room to the mining sector, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party took the initiative presented by President Andrés Manuel López-Obrador on March 28 and presented it again, under the title of one deputy of proportional representation and two deputies of majority, representatives for Iztapalapa, Mexico City, and for Villahermosa, Tabasco. 

This maneuver made it possible to dispense the bill from its examination in commissions and to be approved in the early morning of Friday, April 21, by 290 votes in favor, 186 votes against and only one abstention.

The outdated discussion apparently made changes that would defuse some of the main concerns, such as the duration of the concession that was extended to 80 years when the original intention was only 30; however,  it is not the intention of this article to contribute to the confusion while the Senate completes the approval process.

How is it possible that deputies from electoral districts where there is NO mining can impose distorted ideas about the mining sector? 

Just look at the participation of the deputy for Poza Rica who complains about the abuse of native peoples, when the little mining that takes place in her state is limited to gypsum in the southern portion of Veracruz. Another example is that of the 9th District in Tuxtla Gutierrez denouncing the dispossession of land for mining, when in her state (Chiapas), there is not a single mining unit.

Where are the deputies from Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Zacatecas? It is evident that mining does not matter to them. Let us remember that in the current 65th legislature of the Chamber of Deputies there is a Fishing Commission, an activity that contribute 0.08% to national GDP, while mining was not enough to also demand a commission, even though its GDP contribution is 2.5%.

In the Senate, things were no different, since the Mining and Regional Development Commission let the controversial initiative pass, despite being made up of a majority of legislators from states with a mining presence: representatives from the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Sinaloa and an antagonist (Morelos), plus three senators of proportional representation.

How can we recognize the mining sector as an engine of development when the authorities themselves are confused about their attributions? It is not surprising to read that the Head of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (SEMARNAT) María Luisa Albores González, meets with deputies and presumes as detailed information the number of mining concessions granted since 1992 to date, a subject that does not correspond to her attributions. On the other hand, Albores had to turn to a collective to put together a Geographic Information System (GIS) to get an idea of the number of tailings deposits existing in the country, which, by the way, suffers from serious deficiencies in its integration.

Let us also remember that SEMARNAT has been in charge of evaluating mining projects of resources reserved for the federation since 1988. Let us not forget that the General Directorate of Environmental Impact and Risk (DGIRA) of EMARNAT implemented the Geographic Information System for Environmental Impact Assessment (SIGEIA) during the 2012-2018 six-year term, which Albores does not even mention in her dissertations, preferring to reproduce the CartoCrítica's initiative, without giving it the corresponding credits, through its Preliminary Homologated Inventory of Tailings Dams.

On the industry side, the Mining Chamber (CAMIMEX) has carried out significant actions to make known the benefits of the sector; however, their efforts pale when we hear a third level official in SEMARNAT angrily claiming at the 34th Mining Convention that  he “does not understand how the municipality where the main gold producing unit of the country is located has 72.7% of its population living in poverty."

It seems that this official, now dismissed, never reviewed the rules of operation of the Fund for the Sustainable Regional Development of Mining States and Municipalities, since clearly the role of the mining industry was to contribute the resources, consisting of 7.5% of its profits, plus 0.5% in the case of gold and silver production. The federal government was responsible for the distribution of the proceeds. Consequently, the lack of investment in Mazapil, Zacatecas, was never the responsibility of the industry, but of the government itself.

Nongovernmental organizations angrily claim the injustice of the Mining Fund by pointing out that Jalisco, which is  the third-largest mining producer in the country (according to state data), received only 0.62% of the Fund ministered in the period 2014-2018. They seem to forget that profits have to do with the type of mineral exploited, since 96.23 % of Jalisco's mining production corresponded to Non Metals, which are considerably cheaper than metals.

A quick look at this type of NGO shows that their economic income is based on the number of conflicts in which they are involved, not on those they avoid or in which the opposing parties reach win-win agreements.

On another front, the previously prestigious Mexican Institute of Water Technology (IMTA) has the luxury of presenting a pamphlet called Good Practices for Water Use in the Mining Industry in Mexico, whose authors are Ph.D.s and postgraduates in hydraulics, but with no experience in mining processes. Even at the First Virtual Forum on Water and Mining in Mexico, no one from the mining sector was invited as a speaker. Consequently, this was not an analysis but an execution without the possibility of defense.

Although CAMIMEX has significantly increased its visibility as of 2019, with the inauguration of current Director Karen Flores, the many years of an ostrich-like policy have had consequences.

Something similar has happened with the Association of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists and Geologists of Mexico (AIMMGM), which, underHumberto Vázquez, has raised its voice since 2022.

Unfortunately, the efforts of mining companies, through their sustainability reports, have not been sufficient and accidents such as those in the Sonora River have significantly damaged their image. Even so, it is surprising that NGOs do not denounce the hydrocarbon sector, when it is responsible for more than 90% of the environmental emergencies in Mexico.

It is necessary to recognize that today, more than a quarter of a century after the modifications to the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA) granted the authority the power to demand financial guarantees to respond to the occurrence of possible environmental damages from  environmental impact authorizations, this has not been fulfilled.

In 2000, the LGEEPA Regulation on Environmental Impact Assessment stated that, in the case of activities carried out within protected natural areas, when there was a possibility of affecting a species included in NOM-059 or in the case of highly risky activities, the DGIRA would establish the amount and modality of the financial guarantees.

In the 2001 additions to the LGEEPA, the need for those who carry out highly risky activities to have environmental risk insurance is mentioned, as well as the obligation of the Executive to integrate a National System of Environmental Risk Insurance (Article 147 BIS).

It is of no use for an authority to come and cry after an accident that everything is due to the malice of the offender, when such authority granted authorizations without respecting the provisions of our legal norms and when, furthermore, such authority was responsible for monitoring compliance.

Holding the industry responsible for excessive water consumption, when the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) oversees granting concessions for the exploitation of the resource is a practice that contributes nothing to the country's governance.

A few hours before the new Mining Law was  submitted to a vote in the plenary session of the Senate, many of the intended reforms that initially instilled fear in the sector seem to have been deactivated and the opportunity for a discussion that would include all interested parties (investors, communities, suppliers, state and municipal governments, universities, research centers, among others) seems to have been wasted once again.

It seems that the worst damage is directed at the taxpayers' pocket because, until the early morning of April 21, the insistence that only the Mexican Geological Service would oversee the exploration was maintained. This barbarity only shows the tremendous ignorance of the drafters of the Mining Law initiative, as they leave the economic burden of the investment with the highest risk to the government.

If the blindness of the Executive subjugates the Senate as it did with the Chamber of Deputies, a barrage of injunctions and even claims from commercial partners is expected, much like what happened with the intended Electricity Reform. So, this story will continue.

To answer the question why is mining so reviled in Mexico, or who is responsible for the perception of mining, we can say that it is everyone: investors, consultants, authorities, popular representatives, landowners, NGOs, communities, and we can even add organized crime.

When the responsibility is everyone's, it is diluted, so what is required is that everyone, from their own position, assume a leadership position and demand from the popular representatives a true commitment for the development of our country. A law that only causes greater entanglements will only end up affecting investors, communities, and the environment. Perhaps, the only beneficiaries will be those NGOs that gain resources based on conflicts that they have no intention of  resolving.

Photo by:   Jesús Enrique Pablo-Dorantes

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