Crucitas, a controversial gold mine proposed for a desperately poor region of Costa Rica that is also home to the critically endangered green macaw (why does that always happen?), has hopped the obligatory Supreme Court hurdle.
So what’s next?
The environmental lobby will keep pushing back, as it should, but it must be careful not to lose the forest for the trees. In the grand scheme, it’s not Crucitas that’s the problem. It’s Costa Rica’s mining policy and flimsy regulatory institutions. Win or lose, now is the time to reform, and force the government to stick to its supposed commitment to sustainable development. (Right, Dr. Arias?)
That’s not to say the environmental groups should just let the mining company plant “trees” to “replace” the complex green macaw ecosystem and call it a day. (Nice try, Crucitas.) What they should do is redirect their budgets and energy to lobbying for a serious review of the country’s mining laws, an increase in regulation and enforcement, and stipulations that ensure net environmental and social benefits to the country in the long-term.
There’s a reason Infinito Gold Ltd., the company in question, operates in such upstanding nations as Venezuela and Guyana, and it’s not because they have effective regulatory structures. Since this isn’t the first or the last time Costa Rica will face a proposal like this, dusting off the law book and pumping up Costa Rica’s wimpy Geology and Mines department is urgent.
This is not an endorsement of the political party in power or of gold mining, both of which are proven losers when it comes to the environment. Even Ortega’s ‘anything-goes’ Nicaragua is against mining, and there are plenty of good reasons not to mine gold here, despite the court’s insistence otherwise (No negative environmental impact? Did the judges really write that?).
But as with oil drilling and mining in the more heavily-regulated United States and Canada, the balance can be tipped towards sustainability, just at a much higher cost. And the corporation should be made to bear the brunt of that cost, or get out.
There is some credence to the argument that the wheels of capitalism will keep on turning, and sometimes it’s best to re-align the spokes rather than derail the thing. There is a lot of poverty in the swampy backwater where the Crucitas mine is located, a real need for jobs in a place where eco-tourism is unlikely to take hold and, according to the Supreme Court, more societal pluses than environmental minuses (the Costa Rican definition of public interest).
Tico’s have proudly and deservedly led the world in innovative ideas that temper business with environmental and social consciousness, and here they have an opportunity to do so again. If Crucitas goes forward, local environmentalists should look to the root of the problem, push for tough regulations, and help ensure they’re enforced. In doing so, it’ll send a clear message to Infinito Gold, Ltd. and set a precedent for everyone else.