Citizens groups fighting a government plan to allow lithium mining in various areas of northern Portugal have received an unprecedented boost to their campaigns.
Today, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has for the first time since its implementation in 2001 communicated the preliminary admission of a case against a public authority in Portugal.
The decision refers to an action brought against environment agency APA for “non-disclosure of environmental information on the Mina do Barroso lithium project” promoted by British-based mining company Savannah Resources.
Savannah has made no bones about the fact that it sees the Barroso project as a means to become the first significant lithium producer in Europe.
Plans involve various open pit mines which local people are adamant would destroy their communities’ sustainable ways of life, pollute groundwater and obliterate heritage landscape.
In a bid to study every detail submitted by Savannah to APA, NGO Fundação Montescola requested access to information – which is its right.
A press release put out today explains the NGO actually tried first taking its requests through the Portuguese courts and CADA, the national commission for access to administrative information.
CADA considered APA’s non-disclosure of environmental information “a violation of both national and international legislation” – but still APA ‘did not play ball’.
Hence campaigners’ recourse to the Aarhus Convention last summer – and today’s official answer.
Says the press release put out jointly by Fundação Montescola, MiningWatch Portugal and Associação Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso : “During the last Aarhus committee hearing on October 19th, the Association Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso, representing the community affected by the mining project, said: “We face insurmountable obstacles when it comes to free access to information. The claim to carry out effective and fair participation of all citizens has been jeopardised from the very beginning of the process.”
“During an earlier hearing in July, the mayor of Boticas, Fernando Queiroga, commented: “To all that has been said it should be added that, despite being a legal requirement, no physical paper copy of the Environmental Impact Assessment has so far been made available at the offices of this municipality. Therefore it is still inaccessible to the most vulnerable and info-excluded parts of the population in our council. We consider that APA, despite being a public body with added national responsibilities, has time and again been trampling on national and European legal environmental regulations.”
This is just the latest round in what has developed into a bitter struggle from both sides: citizens and environmentalists are convinced of the validity of their claims; Savannah CEO David Archer appears equally convinced that lithium exploration will bring jobs and much-needed economic growth to the interior region and be carried out in accordance with all the industry’s ‘best practices’.
On the periphery however are serious reservations that lithium reserves in Portugal are all that they are being made out to be.
Citizens groups growing by the day (a new one – Movimento Contra a Mineração do Massueime – appeared most recently) refer to the interview given to Rádio Renascença by Óscar Afonso, president of the Fraud Economics and Management Observatory (Observatório de Economia e Gestão de Fraude), in which he said lithium exploration in Portugal was not viable, and could be a fraud.
He told the station that lithium reserves in Portugal are “insignificant” and that he imagines explorations could well be “abandoned early”.
A lecturer in economics at Porto University, he said “only in an extreme context”, in which the world’s lithium reserves had been exhausted, could he imagine any viability for mining lithium in Portugal.
Indeed, he went as far as to say the “eventual use of (European) community funds for the installation in Portugal of a lithium refinery could be seen as a fraud…”
He explained: “If I consider that people know (lithium mining) is not profitable but they still move forwards with it – because the objective is to access community funds which compensate for it and therefore ‘they don’t care’, then that is a fraudulent thing in relation to the people who live there, and in relation to the rest of Europe. If I believe that people know all this and even so want to move forwards: it is fraud”.
The Resident will be putting today’s development to APA as soon as it opens for business following the Bank Holiday.
Savannah CEO David Archer has told us that although he is as yet unaware of the Aarhus committee’s decision, the situation “is the usual sort of harassment from these groups”.
He said as far as he is concerned, APA has been “very conscious of the consultation process” actually extending it “to accommodate the wishes of these groups”.