“Life in the fjord must be more important than profit,” said Leftist Norwegian politician, Ola Elvestuen, during a February 2014 visit to Førdefjord. Elvestuen was visiting the site of a controversial mining project that would dump 250 million tonnes of hazardous waste into the pristine fjord each year. Fast forward to last week when Elvestuen, the newly appointed Minister of Climate and the Environment, unveiled a four-year moratorium on new permits to dump mine waste into the sea. The government decision calls for a special assessment to be carried out of whether or not existing legislation on waste disposal is sufficient protection against environmental and economic harms.
On the surface it’s great news — a long overdue change to safeguard what Norway is perhaps best known for: the otherworldly beauty of their fjords.
But hold on. There’s a devilish detail.
Unique, but not in a good way
Norway is the only country in Europe and one of the last in the world, to allow solid mine waste dumping into the ocean. According to Ms. Silji Muotka, member of the Saami Parliament Governing Council, this unique distinction is not one that Norway should be proud of. “We must prevent the mining industry from destroying several fjords and displacing other nature-based and culture-based business activities.”
Elvestuen was quick to clarify that existing permits for two mines, including the one on the Førdefjord, would not be reconsidered or revoked. And when you consider that these were the only two places actively proposing to dump their waste into the sea, the moratorium starts to look like a paper promise that won’t stop any actual pollution.
Environmental and indigenous groups were quick to react. Friends of the Earth Norway, denounced Elvestuen’s Left party as having abandoned their principles. The Saami Parliament stated that it is “unthinkable” for Norwegian authorities to grant final operating permits for projects that would dump into the sea under existing mining law.
Neither Nussir nor Nordic Mining, the companies behind the mines, have final authorization to begin operations. For many, including Svein Lund, leader of the local Friends of the Earth chapter in Kautokeino near the planned site of Nussir’s mine, they never should. “The government has accepted in principle that mine waste dumping in fjords is not a good thing. So why allow Nordic and Nussir to go forward?”
For now, community members and activists on the front lines will continue to demand their government block the final permitting of the two mines. But confidence in the willingness of government institutions to protect the fjords is waning. One thing in clear: the fight is far from over.