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Chilean regulators scrap lithium miner SQM's environmental plan

08/01/2020 | 09:10am

Chilean regulators have rejected lithium producer SQM's $25 million environmental compliance plan for the Atacama salt flat, requesting the miner to start again from scratch, a filing showed.

Chile's Environmental Superintendent (SMA) approved SQM's compliance plan early in 2019 after a multi-year investigation found SQM had overdrawn lithium-rich brine from the salt flat.

But the regulator said in a filing dated Thursday that it would begin the process anew to comply with a decision of a regional environmental court in December which invalidated SQM´s plan, calling it "insufficient".

Both SQM and the regulator have since appealed that decision to Chile´s Supreme Court, but the lower tribunal said environmental regulators must comply with its order even as the Supreme Court ponders a potential reversal.

SQM did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The process does not immediately effect SQM´s ability to operate on the flat but is likely to prove yet another headache for the miner, which is seeking to expand its operations at Atacama.

The region supplies about one quarter of the global supply of lithium, a key ingredient in the batteries that power cellphones and electric vehicles.

By Dave Sherwood

© Thomson Reuters 2020
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