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Argentina's environmentalists denounce president's veto of glacier protection law

by Rich Bowden - Dec 4 2008, 00:38

Img: Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina. Credit: longhorndave/flickr

Argentinian environmentalists and water experts have criticized the decision by President Cristina Fernández to veto a law protecting its glaciers, one of the country's most important stores of freshwater.

President Fernández vetoed the Environmental Budget for Glacier and Periglacier law on November 10 after it had passed both houses of Congress. The bill sought to protect and control all glaciers and periglaciers where they act as important water reserves throughout the country.

However the presidential veto was justified because such a law would have prevented “...the economic development of the affected provinces with the impossibility of developing any kind of activity or project in the Cordillera [mountain range] zone.”

Ricardo Villalba, geoscientist and director of the Argentine government's institute for snow and glacier research, IANIGLA, expressed his disappointment and bewilderment with the veto decision to the Tierramérica news agency saying preserving the sources of freshwater was the bill's ultimate goal.

“We worked closely with the legislators to get this law passed,”he said. “It's difficult to understand what happened. The scientific community doesn't want to slow economic development, but rather preserve freshwater sources in a region where the provinces rely on those reserves for consumption and irrigation.”

Environmental groups have suggested the decision will favor mining interests in mountain glacial regions and claimed the mines' activities in the delicate environmental regions will have a detrimental effect on the country's water supply.

“Mining exploitation takes place in periglacial zones, the explosions cause the release and dispersal of substances that, in addition to polluting, warm the glacier area much more rapidly,” said Norberto Ovando, vice president of the Friends of the National Parks of Argentina Association, to Tierramérica.

“For us, water is more valuable than gold and has no substitute,” he said.

However the president said in making the veto decision that she considered the bill to be “excessive” and  gave “preeminence to environmental aspects over activities that could be developed in perfect care of the environment.” 

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