Photo by Egídio Santos showing landscape in one of parishes in the Barroso region of Montalegre overshadowed by plans for mining

Experts warn European Parliament to “stop and think” before forging ahead with lithium strategy

Experts have told the European Parliament to “stop and think” before sanctioning the forging ahead of countries like Spain and Portugal with lithium mining that raises serious environmental, social and security issues.

American hydrologist Dr Steven H. Emerman of Utah University, and anthropologist and energy project specialist Dr Alexander Dunlap of the University of Ohio gave their testimonies at the Public Hearing on “Environmental and Social impacts of mining activity in the EU”, organised by the Committee on Petitions early this morning.

It was Dr Emerman who used the expression ‘stop and think’ – elaborating on what he described as structural deficiencies in particularly two projects – one in Galicia, the other in Portugal (Mina do Barroso, a project led by British company Savannah Resources).

He told his audience that proposals for ‘tailing dams’ in both mines “would be considered illegal if evaluated by international mining standards in Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru or China – possibly putting hundreds of lives at risk in the event of a dam failure”.

A statement put out by MiningWatch Portugal and Spanish counterpart Ecologists em Acción explains that the “Savannah Resources’ lithium project in Boticas and its Environmental Impact Assessment were designated as ‘Irresponsible Creativity’ for including highly experimental technical solutions, such as a tailings dam three times larger than the tallest dam currently in operation, without discussing any associated risks beyond the best-case scenario”.

Dr Dunlap’s focus meantime was on the social impacts of extractive projects and what the eco-groups’ statement described as the “psychological campaigns often employed by mining companies”.

“He mentioned among other examples, the public relations strategies of Savannah Resources in Covas do Barroso that feign social approval through sponsorship actions.

“He also pointed out how the implementation of these campaigns is based on research projects funded by the European Commission itself, under the Horizon 2020 programme, underlining how funding of these projects undermines the EU’s own standards of ethics and transparency – and not least – its goal of greater civic participation”.

Bottom line: both experts encouraged the European Commission to “review all its own plans, not only in order to avoid long-term environmental and social damage, but also to live up to its own principles of transparency, democracy and its ecological standards”.

During the committee’s responses to the expert testimonies, Bulgarian MEP Radnan Kanev stated that “environmental and social standards are not met in many European countries, especially in Southern Europe”, exhorting the EU to “work hard to improve national inspection units”. 

Danish MEP Margrete Auken added that there may be “severe weaknesses in the safety of tailings dams and mining waste infrastructures in Member States, far behind international best practices”.

The EU should work on a revision of its mining waste directive to improve this situation, she said.

The issue of mining in Portugal has energised numerous citizens’ groups – all dead against an activity that they believe will change their lives, livelihoods (and landscapes) for the worse.

Civic movement SOS Serra d’Arga is in the frontline (click here), while a major protest in Viana do Castelo saw five mayors show their support for this particular campaign (click here).

Earlier this year, the villages around Covas do Barroso vowed: ““we will not give up on any form of struggle we consider legitimate” to stop the mine currently awaiting environmental impact approval (click here).

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