New legislation on mines doesn’t fully protect sensitive nature areas in Portugal, environmentalists warn
In the new decree that regulates the exploitation of mineral resources on public land in Portugal, whose public consultation ended recently, only classified areas, such as those that make up the Natura Network, are guaranteed protection “whenever possible”. This is why the environmentalist association Zero criticized the new legislation on mines, considering that it does not guarantee the protection of sensitive areas by allowing exploration to go ahead even if there are negative environmental opinions.
“This is a situation that does not guarantee any safeguards,” the association said in a statement, pointing out that the Environment Minister already guaranteed that “there would be no prospecting and research of lithium in classified areas,” but the new legislation “is not clear on that point.
When any company or other entity makes a request for prospecting and research in classified areas, the last word will always fall to the Directorate General of Energy and Geology, which may authorize “even if the non-binding opinions of other entities, particularly in the area of nature conservation, are negative. Zero accuses the government of wanting to have “political control over municipalities” by putting in the decree-law that concessionaires that want to exploit minerals have to contribute to the Environmental Fund to finance projects of the municipalities where the mines are located.
In addition, “projects that especially benefit the populations closest to the mine” can be financed, which, according to the association, “leaves room for investments that may not result in a benefit for the communities that will be most affected.
“This discretion regarding the type of projects that can be financed and clear political control may not result in added value for communities that are really affected by the exploitation of geological resources”, Zero considers.
The association says there is no point in saying that infrastructure built to support mining operations, such as “energy production, water supply and effluent treatment”, will remain for the municipalities after the mines close, because by then “many will certainly be obsolete, creating false expectations”.
For Zero, a “more ambitious proposal for legislation” is needed, with more participation from society and “clear and active involvement of institutions with competencies in the area of environment and nature conservation in all processes”. For example, “the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests should be consulted in advance” in order to grant concession rights, whether for prospecting and research or for exploration, even if the projects are outside classified areas, and any unfavorable opinion should be binding, defend the environmentalists.
They also consider that the Portuguese Environment Agency and the Regional Coordination and Development Commissions must be “involved in all the processes of granting concession rights”.
Zero also wants to see “other actors in society” involved in the processes of granting concessions, without forgetting” people and existing conflicts”, defending a strategy that “is not only the detrimental aspect of geological resources”.
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