Irregularities among Copec Arauco's pulp plant and the Chilean government
GeoAustral Press Release February 2005
On February 16, 2005, Chile's Regional Environmental Commission (Corema, a government agency similar to the U.S. EPA) voted to lift the sanction it had levelled against the country's largest cellulose plant that had led to the plant's precautionary closure just one month ago. The meeting took place on Corema grounds in Puerto Montt and was rife with conflicts of interest and political pressure exerted by Copec-Arauco. Corema officially pronounced that, with the passage of Resolution 75 on February 11, Copec-Arauco had achieved full compliance of the four terms Corema had imposed and that as a result,
sanctions against the company would be lifted.
A review of the case: Copec-Arauco's failure to uphold the stipulations of Environmental Qualification Resolution #279 in 1998 (see endnote) was cited as the official reason for the investigation into and the subsequent temporary closure of the company's cellulose plant. The unofficial reason was linked to economic considerations.
Chilean president Ricardo Lagos had been looking to improve the government's image and its monitoring of industries in hopes of earning membership into OECD, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. Lagos had also been looking to avoid economic penalties for incidental failure to comply with environmental provisions outlined in free trade treaties that Chile had recently signed. The plant's closure was also prompted by the indignation on the part of regional and Santiago environmental authorities at Arauco's submission of an Environmental Impact Statement virtually identical to one submitted for the construction of another cellulose plant. Copec-Arauco's statement regarding construction of an emergency discharge aquaduct in the Cruces River in Valdivia was a copy of a plan submitted for a project near the Itata River in the Bio Bio region.
Upon the plant's closure, Copec-Arauco began intensely lobbying the Ministry of Agriculture. Corma – Chile's association for the wood products industry -- also played a critical role in exerting pressure on the Ministry of Agriculture, and ultimately Copec-Arauco was able to gain the support of Eduardo Meersohn, Agricultural Minister for Chile's Lakes Region. Throughout the entire sanction period, Meersohn overwhelmingly sided with Arauco's interests. The most prominent incidence of influence peddling and conflict of interest was revealed in Corema's own Lakes Region branch, under the management of Jorge Vives. Corema contracted civil chemical engineer Claudio Zaror Zaror, a researcher at the University of Concepción with a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering, as a consultant and advisor to the Operative Oversight Committee (Comité Operativo Fiscalizador, or COF). Zaror served as a technical advisor to Corema and COF regarding Copec-Arauco's compliance with the four measures necessary to lift the sanctions imposed against its Valdivia cellulose plant. Given Zaror's prior experience coordinating the environmental impact assessment and evaluation of Copec-Arauco's Itata cellulose plant (through the Eula Center at the University of Concepción), his appointment is an unusual one. It appears that the Chilean government hired a Copec-Arauco consultant to evaluate the company's own environmental standards and safety.
While the selection and contracting of Claudio Zaror as cellulose plant expert and direct consultant to Corema and COF might have worked in Copec-Arauco's favor, the indisputable pollution in the Río Cruces as a result of the plant's activity has compelled Zaror to make a conclusive assessment against the company. His report has highlighted incidences of toxic waste dumping in the Río Cruces on three separate occasions between February and October 2004. These wastes are related
to a compound known as Black Liquor, a potent concentration of chemical elements such as sodium, chloride, sulfate, manganese, chlorate, aluminum and other inorganic chemicals present in reactive chemicals used in the plant's bleaching processes as well as in wood processing.
The disregard for due diligence and ethics on the part of public servants, along with the close ties with political and economic groups and Corema's decision to authorize the reopening of the cellulose plant represent a crime of omission of evidece. It indicates that once again corporate gain and influence peddling have been placed above common sense and the good of the people.
Rabindranath Quinteros served as governor of Chile's Region X under Presidents Patricio Aylwin and Eduardo Frei. During his tenure, he came under question for his role in influence peddling related to the proposed Cascada Chile oriented-strand board facility as well as for an unusual situation involving a convicted drug trafficker from the city of Osorno. The influence peddling case was heard by the appellate court of Puerto Montt and filed as Case Nº 1-99. Quinteros currently serves as the mayor of Puerto Montt.
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