Less than 24 hours after the decision of the Committee of Ministers about approving or rejecting the Dominga mining and port project, heart beat He spoke with Marcelo Mena, who was environment minister last time this committee also ruled on the matter. On August 21, 2017, the committee rejected the initiative of then Economy Minister Luis Felipe Céspedes by three votes to two, plus one abstention. The decision ended with the resignation of Céspedes and Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés.
A lot of water has gone out from under the bridge, mainly in judicial rivers. But the meeting comes with other ingredients: President Gabriel Boric himself said in his speech after his election victory: “No to Dominga.” ,I believe that the opinion of the President does not mediate in the decision of the Ministers, as they have to be based on technical background. this is your guarantee”, says Mena, who is currently director of the Climate Action Center of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV).
In short, Environment Minister Maisa Rojas has raised the idea of reforming environmental institutions, so that this type of decision making is more technical and less political.
– He has long been a desire for environmentalism. One wonders what the Minister of Economy or Mines is doing to take these type of decisions? It is the Environmental Assessment Service (SEA) that should be strengthened to take such decisions. The Committee of Ministers should disappear. It doesn’t matter that ministries that don’t have environmental competence are asserting themselves when it comes to voting on a project. In fact, the Environment Court has rarely considered the decision of the Committee of Ministers for the evaluation of projects, rather it is based on technical background. Therefore, it seems that the best way to reduce uncertainty is to eliminate the environment. Strengthening the Appraisal Committee (COVA) and regional body of SEA and abolishing the Committee of Ministers.
Why is Dominga so emblematic of all the investment projects under evaluation?
It is concerned with the development decisions that countries have to take. Knowing what has happened with “sacrificial areas”, it is necessary to decide whether one wants to deliberately create a new area or turn to a model of conservation and sustainable development. A project like the Dominga-X Post has been technically appraised—contrasted with 25 years of extraction versus a development model of sustainable fishing and tourism and greater well-being. 50 or 60 years ago, in areas such as Huasco, Coronel or Puchuncavi, decisions were made without knowing their consequences. Today we have a lot more to learn about whether or not we want to see that story repeated.
But it is striking that a significant group of local residents and the mayor of La Higuera agree with the project. How does this local vision deal with the decision of the country’s development?
– There has been an undue influence and a clear conflict of interest with respect to the funding provided to those communities for the mayor to hold that position. On the other hand, most of the fishermen and people living in the sea are against the project. Those who are more inland and who do not live by the sea have a different situation. That famous (local) consultation has been a bit transparent and doesn’t include Serval. On the other hand, it is important to consider public opinion, however, as a technical assessment of the reports appearing before the Committee of Ministers today indicates that the environmental impacts are widespread.
Do you maintain your 2017 position of rejecting the Dominga project, despite the fact that the Antofagasta Environmental Court indicated that the decision of the Committee of Ministers was illegal?
What matters is what the Supreme Court says. Our action was dismissed for “form”, but the Supreme Court asked the court to go on “merits”. And then he asks that it be resolved in the Committee of Ministers. Therefore, there has never been any doubt about the fact that the approval of the Environment Commission’s assessment took place in a context where a President (Sebastián Piñera) was constitutionally accused of corruption, in the light of the facts revealed in the Pandora Papers. were verified in respect of , where they received payment for not defending that area. I think you have to tell the whole story to decide what is legal or illegal.
What things have changed from 2017 to today in relation to what will be the decision of the Committee of Ministers against Dominga?
– What should have changed is that by now, five years later, the underlying problems, still reported in the complete absence of a complete baseline, could have been resolved. If Dominga wanted to pass the evaluation with a 4.0, that is, with minimal effort, she would have easily resolved the issue. So in general terms things have changed a bit, as the Biodiversity Conservation Services have expressed basically the same objections as they did in 2017.
There was a big discussion in 2017 whether to support the environment or invest. Is this the same talk that will be given tomorrow?
I don’t think so, because deep down, it’s a false dilemma. One realizes that here we are not talking about development versus conservation, but a kind of short-term linear development versus sustainable development.
Do you think there is a possibility that the Dominga project will have to be fundamentally changed so that it can be approved? Or has it become “all or nothing”?
– What would be appropriate for a port to appraise a project that is not in an area where it impacts an archipelago. It will be necessary. But today, the project is complete and the removal of one part to clear the other (it has been raised to clear the mine and not the port) is to be assessed at that time.
-So, will this be a separate project?
-Absolutely. Making a conditional approval would be highly illegal and I don’t think it’s on the table. I believe that it would have been more appropriate for the project to have been a port using the existing infrastructure, as is the case with Huasco. But it will be assessed on its own merit at the appropriate time. Not now.