An influx of mining concessions in Portugal, combined with an increase in protests from local communities has led to heavy criticism of the government.
Most political parties have stated that the Government has ignored the concerns of the population with the approval of more contracts for mining concessions, and that the legislation is ambiguous and ends up facilitating mining in any location.
Three parliamentary appraisals were discussed, by BE, PCP and PEV, and PSD parties regarding the decree-law that regulates the legislation that changed the bases of the legal regime for the disclosure and use of geological resources existing in Portugal, in terms of respect to mineral deposits.
PSD, BE, PCP, PAN and PEV focused their criticism on what they consider to be the gaps present in the legislation that end up facilitating mining in protected areas, and on the inconsistency between the opposition of the population and the decisions of the Government.
PSD deputy Luís Leite Ramos defended that “it is not worth everything in the fight against climate change”, considering that, “to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions” one cannot “devastate protected areas” and “sacrifice the health and quality of life for populations living close to mineral deposits”.
Leite Ramos accused the Government of acting “as a promoter of mining projects, touting the merits of the ecological transition and the wonders of lithium”, without, however, “assuming in a clear and transparent way the defense of the environment”.
“Therefore, the minister cannot be surprised at the loss of confidence that mining causes among mayors and local communities: it was his Government who turned the word ‘lithium’ into a swearword, due to the opacity in the licensing processes, the web of interests and negotiations that grew around them, due to the Government’s deafness to the appeals and complaints of the populations in the defense of their territories and their lives”, he said.
Blocist deputy Nelson Peralta considered that the legislation “is written at the customer’s will”, since it “prohibits everything and at the same time allows everything”.
“Contrary to what was promised, it is not a law for green mining. It is a green way for the mines and, in the case of lithium, there is no speed limit”, added the deputy.
Nelson Peralta argued that for populations in areas targeted for mining “the risks and transfer of wealth remain”, since “with a mine, many other traditional economic activities are at risk”.
For the PCP, deputy Duarte Alves said that the State is playing a “mere role of promoting agent and facilitator of business”.
The PCP bench proposes that a survey of the country’s resources be carried out and, based on this information, “decide based on economic, environmental and quality of life criteria for the populations, whether in each concrete case these resources should or should not be explored”.
The PAN party, through Deputy Bebiana Cunha, recognised that “there are implicit principles” in the mining law that, “if they were to be clarified, would in fact better protect the environment and people”, but said that what the law clarifies is that these principles only materialise “whenever possible”.
Now, ‘whenever possible’ does not protect our habitats, our natural heritage, the populations that have been, in practice, a verb in the passive form, so ignored that they have been, in recent decades, by successive Governments”, he stressed.
In response to the parties, the Environment Minister acknowledged that mines “clearly” have environmental impacts, but assured that, in Portugal, mining “will be the most rigorous from an environmental point of view” and guaranteed that “there will never be any mine that has not previously had an environmental impact assessment”.
“The purpose of the regulation of the mining law is to defend environmental conditions, involve communities, and to share and promote the creation of contracts of value as much as possible,” he said.
With regard to coordination with local populations, Matos Fernandes defended that the exploitation of mines is done in a way to “share with those who live close to the spaces where these mines will exist, as much of the wealth generated and created as possible” and recalled that in law, municipalities issue a binding opinion when “the purpose of exploitation is a purpose that comes from a private individual”.