MARIANA, BRAZIL – Brazil’s government said on Wednesday it may fine mining giants BHP Billiton Ltd and Vale SA for the “environmental catastrophe” caused by ruptured dams at an iron ore mine jointly owned by the companies in a southeastern state.
The government is increasingly concerned over the rising death toll and contaminated mud flowing through two states as a result of the disaster. It is studying the mine’s permits and will ensure the owners pay for cleanup costs, Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said in Brasília, the capital.
“If federal fines are applicable, we will apply them,” Teixeira told reporters. “There will be punishment, and under Brazilian law the environment has to be repaired.”
Her remarks are the strongest yet from the government, which was caught off-guard by a disaster that killed at least eight people and left another 21 missing in the mineral-rich state of Minas Gerais nearly a week ago.
The warning came as the chief executives of Australia-based BHP, the world’s largest mining company, and Brazil’s Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore miner, took responsibility for the disaster.
After surveying the devastated area together, BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie and Vale CEO Murilo Ferreira told a news conference their companies would meet all their obligations as joint owners of the mine, which is formally run by Samarco Mineração SA[SAMNE.UL].
They said BHP and Vale would create a joint fund for the recovery costs, but added that it was too soon to calculate how much would be needed. They also reaffirmed their long-term commitment to the joint venture.
“We are 100 percent committed to do everything we can do to support Samarco and make this right,” Mackenzie said. “We are deeply sorry for everyone who has or will suffer for this terrible tragedy.”
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