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Latin America Green News: Fire ravages Chile's Patagonia, scoring Costa Rica's beaches, and new project proposed near Mexico's Cabo Pulmo reserve

Denée Reaves

Posted March 28, 2014

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Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

March 23th-29th, 2014

Chile

Just before the Metropolitan Region around Santiago enters the time of year that traditionally has the highest levels of air pollution, the Superintendent of Environment rejected the location and data of four of the area’s eleven air quality monitoring stations. These stations measure fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and their data are made available to the public so that citizens may know current levels of smog and take steps to protect their health. However, the Superintendent found that these four stations are located in places that do not adequately reflect the emissions that impact people. The action has led experts to question the data that the stations have produced over the last two years and the credibility of the entire system. (La Tercera via Entorno Inteligente 3/24/2014, Radio Universidad de Chile 3/27/2014)

An uncontrolled forest fire that started on Wednesday has consumed more than 1,000 hectares of land in the future Patagonia National Park in Chile’s southern Region of Aysén. The national emergency service has sounded the alarm in the community of Cochrane, 15 kilometers away, because the abundant local vegetation and the 50 kilometer-per-hour winds make it hard to predict where the fire could spread. The National Forest Corporation, the army, private company and expert fire-fighters are helping to combat the blaze. (Radio Cooperativa 3/28/2014)

Water samples taken from streams and rivers in the northern region of Arica’s Lluta Valley showed high levels of arsenic and other contaminants. Researchers are blaming the area’s reverse osmosis water filtration plant, which started operating last year, for failing to properly clean the water the feeds local communities and schools. The mining industry is also at fault, according to the researchers, who are calling this an environmental catastrophe. (La Estrella de Árica, via Terram 3/24/2014; Santiago Times 3/22/2014)

The Appelate Court of Concepción rejected the third appeal from Endesa Chile to allow its Bocamina II coal-fired power plant to restart operations. The court suspended the plant’s operations approximately 100 days ago after local fishermen and communities complained that Bocamina II was harming marine life and impacting the environment. While Endesa Chile maintains that its plant is in accordance with local regulations, the lawyer for the local fishermen says the company’s evidence and arguments are insufficient. (Revista Electricidad 3/26/2014)

Costa Rica

Minister of the Environment and Energy, René Castro, expressed dissatisfaction with a modified plan presented by the national refinery company (RECOPE) to expand and modernize Costa Rica’s oil refinery.  An original plan was blocked last June by the office of the comptroller general when it determined that feasibility studies were conducted by a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation, the company with which RECOPE proposed to undertake the joint venture. According to the minister, the “Plan B” proposal lacks a study on economic impacts and fails to assess Costa Rica’s maximum capacity to produce biofuels. It also suggests including natural gas as part of the state monopoly, which is inconsistent with the original refinery project concept. The refinery project would boost Costa Rica’s oil refining capacity from 18,000 to 60,000 barrels per day. (La Nación 3/28/2014)

In 2013, only seven of the 107 beaches in Costa Rica certified under the Institute of Tourism’s (ICT) Ecological Blue Flag label achieved the top score of five stars. When scoring beaches, the ICT considers: quality of both ocean water and water used for human consumption, cleanliness of beaches, environmental education, waste management, and safety information.  Ninety-two of the beaches only scored one star. Despite the relatively low score of most beaches, the ICT points out that there is an increase over prior years in the number of beaches receiving the certification. (El Financiero 3/27/2014)

Mexico

In response to the new Cabo Dorado coastal development project proposed near the Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California Sur, local residents have begun collecting signatures calling for the rejection of the major tourism project. The residents are concerned about the potential impacts the proposed development would have on the Cabo Pulmo coral reef and local natural resources. Proposed by La Rivera Desarrollos, Cabo Dorado would include nine hotels, numerous multi-family residences, two golf courses and a pipeline that would extract up to 4.8 million cubic meters of water from a nearby aquifer (enough to support a small city).(BCS Noticias 3/28/2014)

At the inauguration of the large solar park “Aura Solar” in La Paz, Baja California Sur, President Enrique Peña Nieto confirmed that Mexico would be able to reach its goal of 35% of energy from renewable sources by 2024 if not earlier. Peña Nieto says this will be accomplished by the recent energy reform and the soon-to-be-released secondary legislation because the reform will drive up investment and reduce the cost of energy. The solar park, “Aura Solar,” will produce 39 megawatts and reduce carbon emissions by 60,000 tons annually. (Milenio 3/26/2014).

The National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity and the National Commission for Protected Natural Areas have teamed up to create an interactive photography project on monarch butterflies. The two groups ask that Mexican citizens take photographs of the butterflies as they begin their route north to the United States and Canada and post them on Naturalista. The project is to help promote more understanding for the citizens as well as experts on the migration path of the monarchs. Monarch butterfly numbers have decrease drastically in the last few years, with this year showing the lowest recorded numbers, and as such, groups from all three countries are working together to preserve the monarchs. (Quadratin 3/24/2014).

According to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, the cost of contamination in Mexico has risen to 532,679 million pesos (40,698,220,369 US dollars) and potentially reduces Mexico’s ability to be a competitive market for investors. Respiratory illness is also the third highest cause of death for children from 0-4 years old, with 90% dying from acute respiratory disease and another 6% from asthma. Studies have shown that proximity to areas with high levels of transportation exacerbate these health issues. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources acknowledges that the transportation sector is one of the highest emitters in the country and confirms that Mexico will be working on a new fleet of vehicles that run on natural gas. (El Financiero 3/25/2014).

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the Senate have signed an agreement to strengthen the environmental legal framework in Mexico, which helps the current administration’s goal of developing an economy that has care of the environment at its premise. The agreement includes an evaluation of the challenges and opportunities existent in the current environmental legal framework, and a five-year strategic plan to promote the implementation of best practices across all three levels of government. (Diario Momento 3/27/2014).

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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