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A new law, enacted on July 11th after only limited debate in Congress, will weaken environmental protections in the Andean region of Peru. The law will take away Peru’s environmental ministry’s jurisdiction over air, soil, and water quality standards, its power to set limits for harmful substances, and its right to establish nature reserves protected from mining and oil-drilling.

Open-pit Antamina mine in San Marcos, Peru, is partially illuminated on a cloudy day. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Peru has more than 300 mines already, a much bigger incentive for the mining industry than anything in the United States, Chile, or Mexico. This new law favors large corporations as it half’s the maximum fines for all environmental violations except for those considered to be more “serious” and re-establishes big tax breaks for multinational mining companies. Additionally, these companies already have indefinite land grants to explore and exploit for its resources that they can keep for minimal payment. In some Peruvian states, mare than half of the land is under such concessions.

The weakened environmental protection brought on by this law will likely, according to activists, cause an increase in tension between the police who protect the mines and local peoples. Locals are disgruntled by the fact that open mining pits nearby ruin their fresh water supply. In the language of the new law, such conflicts are to be handled with preventative measures rather than disciplinary action.

Peru’s economy depends on mining, bringing in about $38 billion in the past decade. Yet, the industry’s growth recently slowed due to a decrease in demand for metal – a major contributor to this law that loosens environmental regulation on mines.

The environmentalists’, however, suggest that the decreased revenues from mining are a result of lower global prices on metal, not overregulation. This was supported by Peru’s United Nations official Rebeca Arias, who said, “a growth model spurred by investments respectful of the environment is the only viable possibility for sustainable development in a country like Peru, which is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The environmental ministry is also facing threatening lawsuits from mining companies who believe that allocating a portion of their profit to fund the ministry is an unconstitutional confiscation. If the mining companies win this lawsuit, the agency could lose up about $21 million of their funding. Such monetary debilitation would restrict the agency to simple visual inspections of the companies.