August 11, 2010 / 10:52 PM / 8 years ago

Argentine lower house passes glacier bill

* Glacier bill passes in lower house; passes to Senate

* President vetoed similar law that restricted mining

* President has said she will not veto again

By Luis Andres Henao

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Argentine lawmakers on Wednesday approved a glacier-protection bill that would ban mining and oil drilling in the country’s Andean ice fields.

President Cristina Fernandez vetoed a similar law passed by Congress two years ago, saying it could threaten economic development in Andean provinces such as San Juan, where Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) is building a mine high in the mountains.

The bill sets standards for the protection of glaciers and surrounding periglacial areas and lays out a system of penalties for pollution and damage to ice fields.

It is expected to move to Senate for vote later this month, and Fernandez has said she will not veto it this time.

“I’m overjoyed by the law’s passing and I’m positive it will pass in the Senate as well and this time it will become a law,” Deputy Miguel Bonasso, who spearheaded the bill, told Reuters at the end of the Congressional session.

“I hope the president keeps her promise and doesn’t veto it again. We can’t allow mining and oil energy companies to pollute our fresh water sources,” Bonasso said.

The bill was debated in the Lower House on Wednesday, a week after the congressional session had to be abandoned because too many lawmakers were absent from the chamber.

Lawmakers initially clashed over the details of the bill, but Bonasso — who split from the government over the 2008 veto — and Sen. Daniel Filmus reached an agreement to merge two slightly different versions of the proposal.

The vetoed glacier protection law raised questions over Barrick’s vast Pascua Lama mine, which straddles the Chilean border at some 5,000 meters (16,440 feet) above sea level.

The company has said it should not be affected as the ore body that Barrick has been authorized to mine in Pascua Lama and the Veladero mine that it owns in Argentina are not under any ice fields or glaciers.

But Bonasso disagreed.

“If the law was enacted today Barrick would be infringing it because Veladero is on a periglacial area,” Bonasso said.

Environmentalists, who say studies and satellite images show Barrick’s Pascua Lama project is located in glacial areas, criticized Fernandez’s veto of the original law and accused her of pandering to the interests of big business. (Reporting by Luis Andres Henao; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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