There are many important dimensions to ‘best practice’ when a mining company is trying to negotiate its way into a community where it will need to work for a number of years. Two of the most crucial concern the environmental impact assessments (EIAs), and the existence of diverse and possibly conflicting interests among the people who live in places surrounding the mine.

The prior study of environmental impacts lies at the heart of the first of these. EIAs must be carried out by the company, but with community participation and approval from the SENACE (the Servicio Nacional de Certificación Ambiental para las Inversiones Sostenibles), an agency within the environment ministry (Minam).

A particular difficulty arises when the original and agreed EIA undergoes modification. ‘Best practice’ means that modifications must be carried out on the basis of consultation, but this requirement is often liable to slip. The failure of MMG to consult over a modification of the EIA at Las Bambas (Apurímac) lies at the heart of four years of interrupted dialogue and community protest.

All eyes are thus focused on MMG’s current modification to its EIA. It is encouraging to see that there has been some opportunity for public response. The SENACE reported last week that it had received nine documents from various civil society organisations. These include the one we reported on in April based on a careful and extensive analysis by the Frente de Defensa de Cotabambas and backed by Cooperacción.

The Frente document made 22 observations and recommended that the SENACE should not approve the modification to the EIA. MMG responded to SENACE over the queries and points made on 25 June, and the SENACE says it is still considering the company’s response. Meanwhile the Frente de Defensa is clear that the company’s response on twelve of the points in its own document is inadequate.

So we see a measure of interchange, if not exactly consultation. But a huge difficulty remains: the loophole of the ITS, or Informe Técnico Sustentatorio. This is a provision meant for minor changes that require no consultation but which can lead to the fragmentation of the original EIA as successive changes are made through ITSs.

At Las Bambas, an ITS has been used in parallel with the modification of the EIA to put through a fundamental change, an increase in the proposed level of output. This requires no consultation but interacts with changes being made to the EIA that require no consultation.

An important decree was approved in 2014 for the introduction of ‘integrated’ impact assessments, or EIAIs. These would bring together all modification including ITSs, greatly simplifying the task of evaluation and subsequent monitoring. After a long delay, this appears to have stalled again in the Minam; it needs to be implemented.