In a move that could reshape the mining landscape in Mexico, President López Obrador has proposed a ban on open-pit mining, citing severe environmental damage and excessive water usage that detracts from community supplies. The president’s proposal emphasizes the human rights implications, particularly the right to a healthy environment and good health, highlighting the vulnerability and inequality faced by communities and towns near open-pit mining projects. This proposal does not extend to underground mining, marking a clear distinction in the administration’s stance on different mining methods.
The initiative is poised to stir tensions between the Mexican government and the mining industry, especially given that many of the country’s oldest and largest mines operate as open-pit. Mexico is home to 264 mines that extract surface minerals, predominantly located in regions such as Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Sonora, and San Luis Potosí. Notable open-pit operations include Grupo Mexico’s Buenavista del Cobre, Newmont Goldcorp’s Peñasquito, and several of Fresnillo’s gold-silver units, alongside mines owned by Industrias Peñoles.
Since President López Obrador’s administration began in 2018, no new mining concessions have been granted, marking a cautious approach to the expansion of mining activities. This stance contributes to an atmosphere of investment uncertainty, especially following the approval of a new mining law in May 2023. The law, passed rapidly and in the absence of opposition legislators, introduces more stringent requirements for mining companies. These include pre-consultation, impact studies, water concessions, increased financial commitments, and adjustments to the tenure of mining concessions—reducing them from 50 years to 30, with the possibility of a one-time 15-year renewal.
This proposal underscores the ongoing debate over the environmental impact of mining and the balance between industrial activity and community rights and well-being. The mining sector, a significant contributor to Mexico’s economy, now faces a period of adjustment and potential conflict as it navigates these new regulatory landscapes.