Latin America Green News: petcoke pollutes in Chile, turtles die in Costa Rica, countries cooperate in Mexico, glaciers melt in the Andes

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America. Although today’s edition covers the past two weeks, next week’s Latin America Green News will return to the usual format of covering one week.

January 12-25, 2013


Hundreds of people took to the streets in the town of Ventanas to march “For a Decent Life,” demanding that no more new coal-fired power plants are built in the area. Ventanas was declared a “pollution saturated zone” in 1993, yet companies have continued building new plants there. Three thermoelectric plants and one copper refinery are currently operating in Ventanas. Soon the new Campiche coal plant will join them, and the Energía Minera plant, proposed by the national copper mining company Codelco –which would be among the biggest in the country—has been approved. Eduardo Quiroz, head of the artisanal fishermen in the area, said that “the Valparaíso region will die with another thermoelectric plant.” (Radio Universidad de Chile 1/12/2013)

Citizens in the Huasco River Valley are suffering from the environmental damage and consequent health impacts caused by the area’s industrial development. The area used to be a fertile desert oasis and healthy agricultural center in Chile’s northern Atacama Desert. But nearby power plants burning petcoke and a gold mine upstream of the valley’s river have created a dry and polluted environment, and people are suffering from a high incidence of cancer. (The Santiago Times 1/15/2013)

Minister of Energy Jorge Bunster announced the government’s newest proposal to encourage the country’s renewable energy sector, when he recommended that Congress increase the current law requiring 10 percent of total energy generation to come from renewable sources by 2024 to 15 percent by the same year. Previously, the government had proposed increasing the law to 20 percent by 2020, but has since stated that it believes that that goal would be too difficult to achieve. Carlos Finat, Executive Director of the Chilean Renewable Energy Association says the new proposal is too weak, and that the country could absolutely meet the 20 percent by 2020 proposal. (Nueva Mineria 1/17/2013)

Chile’s General Water Directory announced that some of the country’s major energy companies will have to pay fines this year for the water rights they have held but not used. Endesa received a $14 million fine; HidroAysén will have to pay $5.2 million; AES Gener’s fine is $7.3 million and Colbún will pay $3.2 million. The total amount of fines that the water authority announced is to more than $73 million. (Diario Financiero 1/17/2013)

After a surprise mudslide in San Jose del Maipo left 2 million people in Santiago without running water, many are questioning the country’s ecological policies, particularly those concerning deforestation and soil erosion. Although some officials have dismissed the event as a one-time occurrence, Senator Guido Girardi is calling for new legislative initiatives that prioritize ecosystem restoration as a means to prevent similar problems in the future. (The Santiago Times 1/23/2012)

Austral University, La Reserva Costera Valdiviana and Forestal Masisa will replant 2.5 million native tree species over 3,600 hectares in Valdivia’s coastal range, replacing the non-native eucalyptus trees that have spread there. These evergreen forests that stretch along 400 kilometers have lost half of their area in the last 100 years. (La Tercera 1/14/2013)

Costa Rica

Preliminary reports from scientific and environmental organizations show that the recent death of 280 sea turtles in the Golfo Dulce is likely caused by the turtles getting caught in fishing gear. Local fishing groups and NGOs have called on the government to quickly determine the cause of the turtle mortalities and take the necessary precautions to remedy the situation and protect the region’s marine resources.  These groups have repeatedly alerted authorities about the presence of long-line fishing boats within and in close proximity to the Golfo Dulce Responsible Fishing Marine Area where such practices are prohibited. Local communities are also alarmed that the presence of so many turtle carcasses could create a health risk to residents. (El País 1/24/2013; La Nación 1/25/2013)

The United Arab Emirates will finance a Costa Rican program to achieve 100% electricity service across the country through small scale renewable energy.  In Costa Rica there are still approximately 28,000 families without access to energy. This new program will allow the Costa Rican Electricity Institute and local cooperative to provide these families with access to modern energy services. The project will cost between $50 to $70 million, and will install mini hydro, wind and solar systems. (El Financiero 1/17/2013)

As part of the “Ideas” energy innovation contest held by the Interamerican Development Bank, the Costa Rican company Swissol will design a solar water heater geared at middle and low income sectors of the population. With the help of funding from the bank, Swissol will develop a prototype water heater during 2013. The goal is that production of 1,000 to 3,000 units will begin between 2014 and 2016. (El Financiero 1/16/2013)

Two hundred taxi drivers will be able to exchange their old taxis for new electric vehicles under a new “Green Taxi” initiative in Costa Rica. The Ministry of Environment and Energy signed an agreement with the local representative of the BYD car company which has already supplied green taxis in China and Colombia. Participating drivers can make $1,000 monthly payments to purchase the vehicles and will not have to pay the import tax.  (El Financiero 1/21/2013)

Under the leadership of the local group Aliarse, five municipalities and 20 companies in Costa Rica are coming together to launch a waste collection campaign. The “Greener Costa Rica” initiative aims to collect 55 tons of electronic waste this weekend, disassemble it and ship it to Canada for re-use. This is the second such waste collection campaign that Aliarse has spearheaded to help cut down on electronic waste in the country. (La Nación 1/25/2012)

For each $1,000 of GDP that Costa Rica produces it emits only 0.35 tons of CO2, making it one of the least carbon intensive countries.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, only El Salvador and the Bahamas have such low emissions per GDP. In 2004, Costa Rica’s emissions reached 0.43 tons, but have since dropped to levels between 0.34 and 0.36 tons. (El Financiero 1/14/2013)


The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) announced that modifications will be made to the Mexican Official Policy 163 with regard to vehicle efficiency. The new regulations will be revealed in the upcoming months but will chiefly match the environmental regulations for cars in other North American countries. The policy requires better technology for cars as well as a ban on selling any cars that could not be sold in the United States and Canada for environmental reasons. Juan José Guerra Abud is hoping that these new regulations will save 603 million barrels of oil, 1,000 million Mexican pesos on fuel, and reduce emission to 225 million tons of CO2. The new regulations will become valid during the 2014-2016 periods. (El Economista 1/17/13)

Pemex failed to immediately announce an oil spill that occurred on January 13, when a pipeline fractured during exploration of new wells. The spill occurred along the boundary line of Las Choapas and Agua Dulce yet the amount of the spill and extent of the damaged area is still unknown. Greenpeace is calling on the Federal Attorney of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to sanction Pemex for this spill and to strengthen existing regulations for notification of spills. (Greenpeace México 1/18/13).

The Secretary of the Environment, Juan José Guerra Abud, and the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne, met to discuss and reaffirm their mutual commitment to ensure that the border region of the two countries remains an environmental priority. They addressed topics such as climate change, clean transportation, waste, water and biodiversity. (Biosfera: Sala de Prensa 1/18/13).

A report prepared for the US Congress by the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) identified Mexico as a nation where fishing activities resulted in the bycatch of protected species, referring to the incidental capture of loggerhead marine turtles in Baja California Sur.  According to the report, NMFS contacted Mexico via diplomatic channels regarding the situation and has yet to receive a reply to the inquiry. The report based its identification based on bycatch numbers reported by Mexican fishing and environmental entities. Mexican groups have voiced serious concern that very high turtle bycatch numbers in Mexico’s Gulf of Ulloa. (Octavo Día 1/16/2013)

At the 42nd meeting of the National Council of Protected Natural Areas, Francisco Moreno Merino of the Federal Attorney of Environmental Protection and Luis Fueyo MacDonald of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas signed a three year agreement to strengthen the abilities of both groups to carry out their responsibilities. The agreement focused on the exchange of information and computer resources, consolidation of conservation and management programs, technical teamwork, and training. The goal is for this exchange of resources will promote more efficiency in the conservation of Natural Protected Areas, wildlife, marine wildlife and Federal Maritime Territory Zones. (Biosfera: Sala de Prensa 1/21/13).

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration must decide in the coming weeks whether or not to allow Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bread to plant transgenic corn in 2.4 million hectares in Mexico. The upcoming decision is based on a process that began in 2009 when a moratorium on transgenic products ended and the approval of experimental planting began.  NGOs have expressed serious concerns about the health and environmental impact of planting genetically modified crops in Mexico. (El País, 1/12/13)


A new study published in the journal The Cryosphere found that Andean glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates – the fastest rates in over 300 years. The Andean glaciers are a source of fresh water for tens of millions of people in South America, but have shrunk between 30 and 50 percent since the 1970s due to the planet’s rising temperatures. Scientists warned that further melting could cause some Andean glaciers to disappear entirely, impacting communities who rely on them for water supply. (The Guardian 1/23/2013)

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