BOGOTA Jan 8 Colombia mounted pressure on
U.S.-based coal miner Drummond Co Inc on Wednesday as
the company, the Latin American country's No. 2 coal producer,
continues the outlawed practice of loading ships by crane. The
government was due to speak on the issue later in the day.
Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento traveled to
inspect Drummond's port operations on the Atlantic Coast on
Wednesday on the orders of President Juan Manuel Santos. She was
scheduled to hold a press conference nearby at 2 p.m.(1900 GMT).
Several local news media reported that government was
expected to announce that Drummond would be ordered to suspend
loading coal, which would probably shut down most of its
operations in the country.
A mining ministry statement on Wednesday suggested that
Drummond's coal-loading operations could be closed by the
environment minister after her inspection in spite of
arrangements the government made with the company last month.
"As the Mines and Energy Ministry, we back the development
of mining activity ... but not at any price," Mining Minister
Amylkar Acosta said in the statement. "Before everything else
comes environmental sustainability," he said, acknowledging that
royalties would be lost if Drummond's loading was suspended.
Concerns about how Drummond would operate after a Jan. 1 ban
on crane loading appeared to have been resolved in December when
the government said it would impose a daily fine, enabling the
company to continue the practice while it finishes building a
legally-required conveyor belt system that cuts pollution.
But instead of the issue dying down and Drummond continuing
crane loading until March when it expects to adhere to the new
law, controversy over the U.S. company's flouting of the rule
has escalated, and Colombia's government appears to be
toughening its stance.
Corpamag, the regional environmental authority in Magdalena
province where Drummond operates, announced it was suspending
the company's coal loading until it could do so in compliance
with the law. But that decision is awaiting review by the
environmental licensing agency, ANLA, before it can take effect.