Chile's Pinera seeks jail time for environmental damages, infractions

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera delivers a ceremony speech at the Valle Central copper and molybdenum mine, in Rancagua, Chile December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced on Monday a bill to set stiffer fines and jail time for serious violations of the country’s environmental laws, marking a shift toward increasing environmental scrutiny in the world’s top copper producer.

The initiative would make it a crime to mislead environmental inspectors or to obstruct the enforcement of environmental laws, center-right Pinera said in a speech announcing the legislation.

Serious environmental infractions would be punished with as much as two months in jail, and fines of up to $70,000. Most environmental crimes in Chile are currently handled by civil or environmental tribunals, or through out-of-court settlements with regulators.

“We’re working to position Chile as an example on a global level in terms of environmental stewardship,” Pinera told reporters.

Besides copper, Chile is a leading global producer of a wide array of fruits and vegetables, farmed salmon, lithium and renewable energy. Increasing scrutiny of large-scale projects by citizen groups and non-governmental organizations has spurred tougher oversight by government regulators in recent years.

Pinera’s bill would also empower local and regional authorities to more closely supervise mitigation efforts of projects that have the potential to pose serious environmental threats.

The initiative would need to pass both chambers of Chile’s Congress before becoming law.

Reporting by Marion Giraldo; writing by Dave Sherwood; editing by Leslie Adler