The Minister of the Environment has said that the process of granting lithium mining concessions in Montalegre is “crystal clear”.
João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister of the Environment and João Galamba, Secretary of State for Energy, have been summoned to a Parliamentary hearing on the exploration of lithium, with a date yet to be set. The lithium exploration concession contract in the council of Montalegre, signed between the Government and the company Lusorecursos, has been shrouded in controversy, leading several parliamentary groups to request an urgent hearing.
“It began with granting a license for exploration. This was done in accordance with the law, which says that after the exploration there is a right to exploitation,” said Matos Fernandes. The minister said that an Environmental Impact Assessment is now being carried out, which will be “assessed by the administration”.
“If it goes well, there will be exploitation, if it does not go well there will be no exploitation. These are the rules. This process is a rigorous one, from both an administrative and environmental point of view”.
“It’s obvious” that the arguments of the population are important, as well as those of local councils. During the environmental impact assessment there will be a public consultation.
“And all this will be evaluated and a final decision will be taken,” he said.
The population, particularly in the parish of Morgade, Montalegre, where the exploitation of lithium is planned, opposes the project, listing concerns about the size of the mine and environmental consequences, health and agriculture.
Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium, S.A., the company that signed the concession contract with the State for the Romano mine in March, has already announced a business plan of €500 million, the creation of around 500 jobs and the building of a unit to separate the various minerals and process lithium hydroxide. The mine will be open cast and also underground.
Meanwhile, former Minister of Industry and Energy Luís Mira Amaral has stated that the exploration of lithium “must be done in accordance with the laws” and that, if so, Portugal cannot fail to “exploit natural resources”.
On the sidelines of the II International Business Congress, taking place in Aveiro, the current chairman of the Industry and Energy councils of the Portuguese Business Confederation (CIP), said he was “aware that the country has some interesting reserves of lithium”, a “very important” metal and which has been “in increasing demand”, namely “the increase of the car fleet with more electric vehicles”.
“Obviously, exploration in Portugal has to be done in accordance with mining laws and environmental legislation. If done in accordance with this, we cannot fail to exploit our natural resources” he said.
Mira Amaral stressed that this opinion is purely personal and CIP did not “take any position on the matter”, insisting that if “the legislation implies environmental impact studies” then the studies should be done.
“What environmental impact studies say is what needs to be done and mitigation measures, which does not mean that an environmental impact study on one site puts in doubt other sites and the possibility of exploitation on those sites. The environmental impact study does not call into question the whole country. It has to be case by case,” he continued. According to the former minister, lithium “is a very valuable material” and a “natural resource that is worth thinking about its exploitation” and questioned its disregard at a time when it is said to “harness natural resources”.
“It gives me the impression that in this country everything that has any potential for exploitation seems to be called into question. It has to be done in accordance with the country’s environmental legislation and rules, full stop. This is what happens in developed countries,” he concluded.
Interest in Portuguese lithium began in 2016, the year 30 new requests for prospecting and researching of this metal were made, driven by the increase in global demand due to its use in electric car batteries. Since then, various environmental associations, city councils and the population have spoken out against lithium prospection and exploitation, with the Government arguing, on the other hand, that this resource is essential for the energy transition.