The Argentine Supreme Court has voted to reverse the injunctions applied to the “Glacier Act” by Federal Judge Miguel Ángel Gález in the Province of San Juan.
Congress passed the Glacier Act, Law 26.639, on 30th September 2010.
Shortly after the passage of the law, in November of 2010, Judge Gález applied a series of injunctions blocking the implementation of six articles in San Juan, which is home to several large mining projects.
The judge’s decision came in response to a challenge to the constitutionality of the law raised by a coalition of mining companies and miners’ unions. Among the plaintiffs were the Argentine Association of Mine Workers (AOMA) and its San Juan branch, the San Juan Mining Chamber, the San Juan branch of the General Confederation of Work (CGT Regional San Juan), the Argentine Chamber of Mine Services San Juan (CASEMI), and the Argentine Chamber of Construction.
Challengers of the law argued that the Glacier Act was unconstitutional on the grounds of its disrupting the economic development of the province. Judge Gález ultimately ruled that the law infringed on provincial legislation.
High-altitude mining is important to the economy of San Juan, where the international company Barrick Gold operates the Pascua Lama and Veladero mines. In 2011, a group of environmental NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court to block the Pascua Lama project in particular because it “contaminates the environment and violates the Glacier Act”.
The injunctions applied by Judge Gález focus on those articles of the Glacier Act that could affect the operation of open-pit mines. The judge’s decision suspended the implementation of articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 15 in the province.
Of particular debate was article 2 of the law, which defines the concept of a glacier and periglacial area.
The other suspended articles called for the government to take inventory of the present glaciers, study the environmental impact of ongoing economic activities in the province, and block any activities deemed to contribute to the destruction of glaciers.
In today’s decision, the Supreme Court argued that by suspending the selected articles, the injunctions effectively “neutralised the processes established by the law”.
The court argued that the San Juan judge “should have considered than an injunction which suspends the effectiveness of the Law 26.639 would have significant impact with regards to the constitutional principal of the division of powers”.
With today’s Supreme Court Decision, the Glacier Act will immediately enter into force and the government will be held accountable to all requirements outlined by the law. Top on the list will be taking an inventory of the glaciers in the country.