ON DECEMBER 21, 2016, ARGENTINA'S SUPREME COURT OF JUSTICE HAS ISSUED AN INJUNCTION TEMPORARILY SUSPENDING ALL WORKS AT THE "KIRCHNER" AND "CEPERNIC" DAMS, LOCATED IN THE PROVINCE OF SANTA CRUZ, FOR NON-COMPLIANCE WITH ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS.
The decision of the Federal Supreme Court may affect the relation between Argentina and China. The works at the "Kirchner" and "Cepernic" dams are under the joint venture between Chinese company Gezhouba and Argentine companies Electroingeniería and Hidrocuyo.
The injunction was adopted as a result of two legal actions seeking environmental injunctive relief that were respectively filed by an association of environmental lawyers of the Province of Santa Cruz (Docket "Asociación Argentina de Abogados Ambientalistas de la Patagonia Vs. Province of Santa Cruz et Al in re Action for Environmental Injunctive Relief") and the Foundation for the Sustainable Management of Santa Cruz's Natural Resources (Docket "Fundación Banco de Bosques para el Manejo Sustentable de los Recursos Naturales Vs. Province of Santa Cruz et Al in re Injunction").
The Supreme Court injunction suspends the public works awarded to the Electroingeniería/Gezhouba/Hidrocuyo Joint Venture that are mainly funded by Chinese Banks, until both an environmental impact study is conducted and public audiences are held within the framework of Law No. 23,879 (the "Law on Environmental Impact of Waterworks") or until final judgment is passed on the dockets referred in the above paragraph,whichever occurs earlier.
The suspension does not include "preliminary tasks" of the executive project and its corresponding environmental impact study, comprising exploratory geotechnical probes, base study activities, access roads, transitory construction camps and transitory infrastructure necessary for the construction.
The National Supreme Court of Justice also ruled that the relevant litigation cases should be heard by the Federal Justice of the City of Buenos Aires (Justicia Nacional en lo Contencioso Administrativo Federal de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires), taking into consideration that one of the defendants is the Nation.
The plaintiffs support their claims by asserting that the mandatory environmental impact studies and public audiences have not been performed, and that the Argentino Lake, Perito Moreno, Spegazzini and Upsala Glaciers, and Los Glaciares National Park are at stake.
At is turn, the Supreme Court of Justice has recently sought information from the Federal Government on whether the mandatory environmental impact studies and public audiences have been duly conducted, and the information that the Government provided has been regarded by the Supreme Court as not convincing. In fact, the Court has concluded that the requirements of the Law on Environmental Impact of Waterworks have not been met, and taking into consideration both that the works have started in early 2015 and the magnitude of the project, the Court has issued the injunction.
The outlook for the upcoming year is that the Nation and the Province of Santa Cruz as well as the other defendants, as applicable in each case, shall need to move forward in taking the necessary actions to evidence compliance with the Law on Environmental Impact of Waterworks to the Argentine Justice.
The decision is relevant not only with respect to the project but it is an evidence that environmental compliance issues constitute an important concern of the society in Argentina.
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