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Chile’s Comptroller clears Piñera of conflict of interest in Patagonian coal mine

Monday, July 25th 2011 - 22:10 UTC
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The Chilean president has his stocks in a blind fund but included the project in a development plan for Magallanes region The Chilean president has his stocks in a blind fund but included the project in a development plan for Magallanes region

Opposition to the Isla Riesco coal-mining project in the extreme south of Chilean Patagonia suffered a setback Thursday when Chile’s Comptroller General rejected accusations of a conflict of interest at the highest level of government.

Critics have alleged that President Sebastián Piñera could profit if the project moves forward. The project’s approval at this stage depends on the vote of a council of 11 ministers, all appointed by Piñera.

Despite suggestion of a conflict of interests, however, the Comptroller General ruled that the president’s selection of ministers should not “affect their impartiality.”

The council nevertheless delayed the vote that was scheduled for Thursday for an informative meeting. Three of the 11 ministers on the council have held their positions for less than one week since Monday’s cabinet shift.

The controversial mining project, located in the Magallanes Region, close to Punta Areas, is expected to extract 240 million tons of coal over the next 25 years. The project was approved by Chile’s regional environmental authority in mid-February, despite vocal opposition from environmentalists.

Project opponents fear that the project’s mining of relatively low-quality coal will commit Chile to 25 years of “dirty energy” at a time of growing concern about climate change.

Opposition forces are rallying against the project in anticipation of the council’s vote, arguing that the project is a step back for sustainable development and that conflicts of interest extend beyond Piñera’s relationship with his cabinet.

For Chile Sustentable Director Sara Larraín, “Isla Riesco supports Chile’s tendency towards coal, which would mean a 360 percent increase in carbon emissions.”

According to figures from Chile’s National Energy Commission (CNE), 59% of all power plants currently under construction in Chile are coal burning power plants. Chile is already the third highest CO2 emissions polluter (per capita) in South America.

Greenpeace has also joined the campaign against the Isla Riesco mines and plans to petition the ministers to reject the project. The organization participated in a press conference Tuesday together with Alerta Isla Riesco and other prominent environmental groups like Chile Sustentable and Patagonia sin Represas.

On the political front, members of the opposition alleged that the project is yet another example of a conflict of interest for Piñera, a billionaire businessman before running for president of Chile.

President Piñera holds almost 800,000 shares of stock in COPEC, making him one of the largest investors in one of the two companies behind the Minera Isla Riesco project.

Although the stock is held in a blind trust for the duration of his presidency, lawmaker Enrique Accorsi said that after Mina Invierno was approved by the environmental authority in February “the stock price of Copec rose, earning 5 million dollars profit for the President.”

The Comptroller General ruling does not preclude other investigations into possible conflicts of interest.

Critics also have alleged that Piñera helped the project advance in other ways, such as mentioning it within a government development plan for the Magallanes Region released last November, while the project was still in the process of environmental assessment.

Carolina Tohá, president of the opposition party Partido por la Democracia (PPD) and a leading critic of the project, said the Comptroller General decision was “contrary to common sense” and that she will appeal the decision.

By Benjamin Schneider - The Santiago Times

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  • Sergio Vega

    Those stupid fool enviromental gangs have never asked the Magallanes inhabitatnts, less the Isla Riesco inhabitants, if they are OK or not with the project, as others as did with the result of all of them in the Island and the most in the Region are happy to have a new project that mean works and resources for us considering that it don´t mean any risk for the enviroment like other coal projects working right now and some closed.
    The country is needing to double it energy capacity within a decade, we have not natural gas and oil enough to do it and the hydroelectric projects means years to be in work (and are rejected too by the foolish gangs) and the “alternatives” energies are not enough to acomplish with the needs, so we have to use what we have as energy resource in hughe ammount.....coal !!!
    Sara Larrain and her muppets is living in Santiago where the polution is the highest in Chile, and she drives a car, use all the electrodomestic devices, etc., but she is accusing other for the poluted air.....
    We, the Patagonian inhabitants are very interested that this project go ahead and soon we can have a lot of jobs and incomes for the local goverments that help to improve our life here.

    Jul 26th, 2011 - 02:23 am 0
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