By Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA, Jan 3 (Reuters) - A regional environmental authority in Colombia on Friday ordered U.S.-based miner Drummond to suspend coal loading, an action which appeared to contradict a recent national government decision and could shut off a third of the country's exports of the fuel.
The authority, Corpamag, said in a statement that it had ordered Colombia's second biggest coal producer to immediately stop loading until it could use the legally required conveyor belt system.
"The measure, which is of a preventive character, is to be adhered to immediately and can not be appealed against in any way," the statement said.
Drummond's press office told Reuters the company had no comment to make, but a worker at Drummond's port told Reuters by mobile phone from the site that it was still operating normally, about half an hour after Reuters received Corpamag's statement.
Corpamag representatives were not immediately available to clarify whether the entity's decision overruled that of the Environment Ministry or to provide more detail about their authority to take the apparently unilateral decision.
Environment Ministry officials were also not immediately reachable for comment.
As of Jan. 1, all coal miners operating in Colombia are required to use conveyor belts instead of cranes to load coal. The law is aimed at reducing environmental pollution and spillage of coal into the sea.
Drummond does not expect to complete installation of its conveyor belt loader until March, but it had agreed with the government last month that it would continue conventional crane loading and pay a daily fine for the privilege.
Corpamag, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Magdalena province where Drummond's port is located, describes itself on its website as a public entity tasked with overseeing local environmental issues and promoting sustainable development.