Brazil Sues BHP Billiton, Vale and Samarco For $7.2 billion Over Mine Disaster
Brazil’s government has filed a $7.2 billion lawsuit against mining company Samarco Minerao and its co-owners, Australia’s BHP Billiton and Vale, to clean up the damage caused by the mine disaster in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais.
In a speech to the climate change summit in Paris, president Dilma Rousseff blamed the disaster on the “irresponsible action of a company”.
“We are severely punishing those responsible for this tragedy,” she said.
The November 5 damburst unleashed 60 million cubic metres of mud and mine waste that demolished a nearby village, killed at least 13 people and polluted a major river valley, killing fish and reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Brasilia required Samarco to take immediate action to contain and reduce the environmental impact of the damburst, the chief prosecutor of the coastal state of Esprito Santo, Rodrigo Vieira, said.
The lawsuit seeks at least $7.2 billion that would be administered by a private fund over 10 years for environmental recovery and compensation.
Samarco would be required to set up the fund to be managed independently by non-governmental groups, including a committee of inhabitants of the Rio Doce river basin and environmental organisation Instituto Terra.
“If Samarco does not have the financial resources to cover payments over 10 years, Vale and BHP will be held responsible for providing their shares,” Mr Vieira said.
BHP, whose shares have fallen 20 per cent since the dam burst, said it would consider the matters raised in the court documents “in due course”.
Vale and BHP announced last Friday that they would create a fund with Samarco to help in the clean-up of the Rio Doce and its tributaries affected by the disaster.
They did not detail the size of the recovery fund.
Samarco has already been fined $90 million by Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, for the disaster, which covered the flood plain in mud for 80 kilometres.
Drinking water supplies for a quarter of a million people had to be closed off.
While they are going to court, Brazilian authorities are looking for a settlement similar to the $29 billion agreement reached by the US government with oil firm BP following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, in a civil lawsuit brought by business owners and others, a judge in 2014 ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the spill and had to pay up to $25 billion in penalties on top of the previous payments made.
Mr Vieira said the Brazilian government hoped to sit down with the miners over the latest disaster and settle out of court.
“The big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a good precedent of how to agree on funds for environmental and socioeconomic recovery,” he said.
“That’s our goal.”