Why Honduras Should Not Jump on the Ban Wagon: A Study of Open Pit Mining Bans and Their Pitfalls

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Butte, Montana, is home to the Berkeley Pit, a former open pit mining site that has slowly filled with deadly and acidic water that threatens to contaminate the drinking water of nearby communities within the next ten years. (1) In Argentina, the active Alumbrera mine projects toxic dust into the air on a daily basis and uses such large amounts of water that farmers' crops are failing from desertification. (2) At a gold mine in Congo, sixty people died in a mine landslide, a common danger of open pit mines. (3) Given the potential devastation that can result from open pit mining, mining companies already face stricter and more extensive regulations when pursuing sites and permits for open pit mining. (4) A relatively new approach, however, for avoiding the health and environmental risks is to ban the use of open pit mining altogether. (5)

Over the past decade, countries in Latin America have experienced a sharp increase in interest from foreign mining companies and, as a result, are generally aware of the long-lasting impact that open pit mining may have on the individuals living in the community and on the environment. (6) In an attempt to prevent potential societal and environmental damage and the creation of new mining sites, several countries have enacted outright bans on the open pit mining process. (7) For example, the Costa Rican national government banned open pit mining at the federal level, while individual provinces in the Philippines and Argentina enacted laws to ban the process at the local level. (8) Although the bans enjoy wide support from citizens and social and environmental activists, mining industries and companies continue to lobby for reform of the laws. (9) The bans also tend to include exceptions and unintended consequences against which activists continue to protest: some bans allow pre-existing sites to continue operating, while others result in an increase in illegal mining. (10) Although Honduran communities have also recently advocated for a ban on open pit mining, any such ban would most likely be ineffective in light of the legal pressure from the mining industry, the futility of many of the existing bans, and the current pro-mining state of the Honduran government. (11) Instead, the Honduran national and local governments may be more successful by imposing stricter federal regulations and requirements on mining companies before issuing mining permits. (12)

This Note will discuss whether a flat ban on open pit mining is sufficient to prevent the harms associated with open pit mining, and will examine practical alternatives that may achieve the desired end result. (13) Part II will present the history of open pit mining, including the advantages of the technique and the detrimental effects it has on the environment and the health of communities near the mining site. (14) Part III of this Note will introduce common forms of open pit mining regulations, and will explain the recently proposed and passed mining laws in Honduras, as well as similar mining laws enacted in Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Argentina. (15) Part IV will follow with an analysis of the downfalls of bans on open pit mining and will explore alternative strategies that may be more practical for Honduras. (16) Finally, Part V will conclude that the Honduran national and local governments should pursue extensive regulation and oversight over international mining activities. (17)

II. OPEN PIT MINING

A. The Mining Process

Open pit mining is a form of surface mining that mining companies utilize when the desired mining deposits, such as gold or copper, are located at or near the surface of the ground. (18) Based on the location of minerals closer to the surface of the ground, open pit mining, as opposed to underground mining, is often the most economical way for mining companies to retrieve these types of minerals. (19) Although open pit mining may be the cheapest option for companies looking to exploit certain minerals, the process involves a number of complex steps and can require many resources. …

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