Brazil Senate okays dam safety bill after Vale disaster kills hundreds

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian Senate committees on Wednesday passed a bill to tighten dam safety in the country, after a mining dam owned by Vale SA burst and killed an estimated 300 people in the town of Brumadinho.

FILE PHOTO: A rescue worker reacts during a demonstration in honor of victims of the collapse of a dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, in Brumadinho, Brazil February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Washington Alves/File Photo

The legislation, which tightens safety regulations on all types of dams, is similar to a regulation bill that failed to gain traction three years ago. It will now pass to the lower house for consideration, provided Senators do not file an appeal within five working days, which would require it to go to a vote of the full chamber.

The bill would ban upstream tailings dams similar to those that burst, strengthening a move already taken at the administrative level by the National Mining Agency.

The Jan. 25 disaster provoked global outcry against Vale and the Brazilian government for allowing two similar disasters to happen in a span of three years. In 2015, a dam burst in the nearby town of Mariana, killing 19 people.

The bill passed in two committees on Wednesday. Its tighter regulations are based on a similar law proposed after the Mariana disaster floundered in the chamber’s environment committee and never reached the lower house.

“I am certain, if it had passed Congress with the 16 amendments and all the feedback from the environment committee, something definitely would have been done to prevent this disaster, this crime in Brumadinho,” Senator Leila Barros, the author of the new bill, told Reuters, adding that she hoped for approval in the first half of 2019.

“Now more than ever, the legislature has the obligation to do this.”

The wide-ranging overhaul for regulation of all types of dams, not only those used in mining, will require more advanced monitoring technology and detailed emergency plans. It will give government enforcers stronger legal standing and also make criminally liable those who certify the safety of a dam that later collapses.

Miners would continue to pay taxes normally due on mining shipments in the event of a disaster-related shutdown for a decade or until operations are restarted at the mine, to avoid impact on government revenues.

One provision will require dam operators to buy insurance to cover a possible disaster, with supporters counting on pressure from insurers to boost safety efforts. A committee amendment to the bill reduces the time limit for compliance to one year.

Another amendment would raise the maximum fine for dam operators to 10 billion reais ($2.68 billion).

($1 = 3.7284 reais)

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by David Gregorio

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