Aerial view of a coal mine

At the Pibblenow mine, property of Drummond, nebulizers help reducing the concentration of particles in the air, one of the environmental impacts with major health implications for the surrounding villagers. Air pollution remains a severe issue in the south of the department, where coal extraction is concentrated. Photo: Claudia Strambo.

In late May, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a provision in the 2001 Mining Code that gave the national government sole authority over mining permits, and barred local or provincial authorities from creating exclusion zones where mining is not allowed.

The ruling was a victory for municipalities and provinces (departamentos) where opposition to mining is on the rise. Even in Colombia’s two main coal-producing departments, el César and La Guajira, opposition to large-scale mining is now strong.

Previous rulings, in 2014 and 2015, had required the national government to work with local authorities to agree on mining permits, but stopped short of letting local authorities block a permit. The new decision thus marks a turning point in the governance of mining in Colombia. The Colombian Mining Association has strongly criticized it, saying it will directly affect investment and the future of mining.

Municipality building for Cesar’s capital, Valledupar
Municipality building for Cesar’s capital, Valledupar. For decades, the city benefitted from mining royalties, but the flow of resources is diminishing. Photo: Claudia Strambo.

Opposition to extractive operations is driven by concern about social and environmental impacts, which local officials say far outweigh any economic benefits. A majority of royalties paid by mining companies (up to 80%) used to be allocated directly to the municipalities and departments where mining occurred, or through which minerals were transported. However, since a reform in 2012, direct revenue from mining activities has been gradually reduced. Since 2015, producing regions only receive 20% of the royalties directly. The rest is redistributed across the country through a complex system of funds.

The recent ruling by the Constitutional Court only concerns the mining sector, but there has also been growing opposition to oil and gas extraction in producing regions, because of similar environmental, economic and political grounds.

Source: Place blog, ThomsonReuters Foundation, UK