The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled against a legal claim by mining companies Barrick Gold Corp and Minera Argentina Gold that Argentina's Glacier Law was unconstitutional.
The decision was praised by environmentalists and marked a setback for one of the world's biggest gold miners.
The justices voted unanimously to uphold the law's validity on constitutional grounds, determining that the plaintiffs had not provided sufficient evidence to support their claim that the law infringed their right to mine Argentina's natural resources.
“The challenge posed by Barrick is ruled inadmissible,” the ruling declared.
Barrick had argued that the 2010 law could affect its projects near glacial areas in Argentina. But the justices said Barrick had not proved that the law curbing mining on and around the country's glaciers to protect water supplies had caused any damage to the company at all.
Barrick owns Pascua-Lama, a high-altitude mine that straddles the Argentina-Chile border. It also runs the Veladero mine in Argentina's San Juan province.
The Argentine law broadly defines glaciers, so it protects not only the icy masses most people think of but also "rock glaciers" and frozen groundwater on mountaintops where glaciers have melted away from the surface. The Argentine National Glacier Institute, which had a big hand in drafting the law, pushed the definition because it is believed most glacial water actually comes from such reserves.
"We celebrate the ruling because there's no doubt that glaciers must be protected," Greenpeace Argentina spokesperson Gonzalo Strano said in a statement.
"Barrick's request to declare the unconstitutionality of the national law was a perverse play that fortunately lost," Strano said. "Now, the law must be followed and Veladero must be closed. We can no longer allow mining on Argentine glaciers."
Representatives at Barrick could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Supreme Court Justices ruled that the province of San Juan, which supported the gold mining firms in their claim, had also not sufficiently explained how provisions in the legislation had caused the province any damages or infringed its rights to mine natural resources.
The Court reiterated that protection of the country's glaciers was a shared responsibility between provinces and the federal government, according to the law in question.
In 2011, the Supreme Court overruled a San Juan provincial court decision from the previous year that determined the law was unconstitutional.
According to reports citing the National Secretariat of the Environment, this latest ruling will see the suspension of 44 mining projects nearby or on bodies of ice in Argentina.