On December 18, the 12th Federal Court of Belo Horizonte handed down decisions on injunctions requested by federal and certain state governments (the plaintiffs) against Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton Brazil for cleanup costs and damages related to the breach of the Fundão tailings storage facility (TSF). The court ordered Samarco to deposit BRL 2 billion ($519 million) into a court-managed bank account within 30 days. This amount is 10% of the total amount sought by the plaintiffs, BRL 20 billion ($5.2 billion), for the fund. The amounts must be used to pay for community and environmental rehabilitation. A daily fine of BRL 1.5 million ($390 million) will be applied to Samarco for noncompliance with the deadline of January 15.

The court also imposed a restriction on existing mining and exploration concessions held by Samarco, BHP Billiton Brazil and Vale in Brazil, such that those concessions cannot be transferred or sold by the current holders. The court also gave the three companies 45 days until February 2 to present a comprehensive plan for environmental remediation and socioeconomic recovery. The judge said, if Samarco did not have enough money to pay for the cleanup, the parent companies could be held responsible.

Vale has been further implicated in the spill. The company was pumping tailings from its Alegria iron ore mine to the Fundão TSF, which failed on November 5 and sent a plume of orange slurry from the interior of Brazil down the Rio Doce 300 km to the Atlantic Ocean. The judge ruled that Vale shared responsibility rather than being an indirect polluter. Vale said less than 5% of the tailings in the Fundão TSF were from the Alegria operation. Meanwhile, the death toll from the spill has increased to 17, five civilians and 12 miners working on the Fundão TSF.

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