INTERVIEW-Colombia to get tough on environmental rule breakers

Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:55pm GMT

* Government wants to up fines for damaging environment

* Colombia to clamp down on abuses by communities

* Investors lacking environmental standards not welcome

By Helen Murphy and Jack Kimball

BOGOTA, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Resource-rich Colombia will ramp up sanctions against companies in the booming oil and mining sectors that abuse the environment and fail to abide by protection norms, a government minister said on Wednesday.

The government will adopt a "carrot and stick" approach to raise the standards of firms that plough money into the Andean nation's mountain ranges and jungles to extract oil, gold and coal, Environment Minister Frank Pearl said.

Colombia has attracted record investment over the last decade as a U.S.-backed offensive against rebel groups cuts the number of workers kidnapped and killed around mining and oil installations, making exploration for oil and minerals safer.

"The consequences should really have an impact," Pearl told Reuters in an interview.

"The fines should no longer be a joke; the fines and sanctions are sometimes paid by companies out of petty cash ... The fine has to hurt," said Pearl, who took the post in September last year.   Continued...

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