The Union for Defence of Covas do Barroso has been fighting this project for years
The Union for Defence of Covas do Barroso has been fighting this project for years

Barroso lithium mine ‘impact statement’ “flawed by violation of law”

 Public prosecutors call for annullment of mine’s ‘green light’

Portugal’s public prosecutor’s office is powering the fight by citizens to stop lithium mining in World Agricultural Heritage site Covas do Barroso (Boticas).

In a document released today, it considers that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) effectively giving the mine the green light “is flawed by a violation of the law” and “should be annulled“.

The document has been released by Boticas council, the mayor of which is 100% behind his local electors’ battle to stymy the project.

Fernando Queiroga filed a lawsuit to annul the EIS, sending a request to Mirandela Administrative and Fiscal Court (TAF) where the case is being heard.

As a result, explains Lusa, the public prosecutor’s office was notified to give its opinion.

In the document, the public prosecutor’s office concludes “that the EIS is in breach of the law and should be annulled”.

The delighted mayor says these conclusions “give even more strength to the fight against lithium mining” and “demonstrate that the public’s arguments against the mine are completely legitimate“.

 “Point by point, it dismantles the opinion given by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA),” said the mayor, noting that the public prosecuor had pointed out the “illicit nature of the mine project and formulated a clear position in the process, supported by thousands of documents”.

APA deemed lithium mining at the Barroso mine, in the Vila Real district, environmentally viable by issuing a favourable EIS in May, but it includes a wide range of conditions.

The mine, which British company Savannah Resources wants to exploit, has an estimated duration of 17 years. The planned concession area is 593 hectares.

One aspect highlighted by the public prosecutor is the risk that the expansion of mining activity represents for the Barroso Important World Agricultural Heritage System (SIPAM), de-characterising it and, consequently, potentially leading to its declassification, which violates the international commitments that Portugal has made to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to protect, support and increase the quality of life in the region.

“By foreseeing and accepting the hypothesis of the disintegration of SIPAM, the administrative act embodied in the EIS manifestly errs, in this dimension of violation of the State’s international commitment, in the assessment of the facts and the law, verifying a breach of law, which implies annulment,” says the public prosecutor’s opinion.

The public prosecutor’s office also states that the EIS violates legislation in force that does not allow the development and exploitation of mineral resources in SIPAM territory, as well as the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 (PEPAC) for Portugal – conflicting with the objectives of EU funding for the SIPAM programme and investments in financial support for the Barroso area.

The Barroso mine project was presented as an expansion, but the public prosecutor’s office believes that it is “a set of new sub-projects, which were not analysed by the EIS, and whose effect, intensity and complexity go far beyond the area to be expanded“.

The public prosecutor’s office believes that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the expansion presents a reference situation for the existing mining activity from a previous contract (2016) that was not subject to environmental assessment, so the recent EIS should compare the activity made possible by the only previous EIS (2005) with the one that is now to be carried out.

It is also stated that the EIS does not make a correct assessment of the management of mining waste, does not define the risk of vulnerability to accidents and disasters of the six planned dams or the contamination of the water environment (Covas River and groundwater).

And, according to the MP, it doesn’t consider the real impact of this project cumulatively with the Romano mine, planned for Montalegre, due to the proximity and size of the two projects.

With regard to the Iberian wolf, the public prosecutor’s findings also point out that the planned minimisation measures “lack demonstration of effectiveness”.

Another aspect mentioned in the document is that the promoter admits that China could be the destination of the ore, which would not solve the problem of external dependence on the European Union’s lithium supply.

“There are many inconsistencies and many illegalities in this process,” concluded Fernando Queiroga, calling for the project to be cancelled.

It needs to be clarified that this mining project is one that figures implicitly in the investigations that derived from Operation Influencer – the criminal probe that scuppered Portugal’s absolute majority Socialist government.

In that probe, APA president Nuno Lacasta has already been cited as an official suspect. He has since stepped down from the presidency that he held at APA for 11 years.

Opponents to this project have always vowed they will take their fight to save Covas do Barroso from the effects of lithium exploration to the bitter end. This could be it. ND

Source material: LUSA