Brendan McLaughlin, bmclaughlin@earthworksaction.
With increased demand for minerals needed for green energy technologies, pressure is growing to open new mines. Yet existing regulations in many places around the world, including the European Union, fail to ensure the safety of downstream communities and ecosystems. A review of mining regulations is critically important as the EU decides how to address the push for new extraction in Europe.
Today the European Parliament’s Petitions and Environment Committee held a special public hearing on the environmental and social impacts of mining activity in the EU, which included the presentation of new research and expert testimony. Dr. Steven Emerman, a geophysicist and hydrologist with over 30 years of experience, testified to the inadequate safety standards at mine waste storage facilities in the EU, showing how such facilities, called tailings dams, at existing and proposed mines in Spain and Portugal would not meet regulatory requirements in countries like Brazil, Chile, China, Peru, Ecuador and the United States. He also testified that any mining project must follow the strictest environmental and social standards throughout its lifecycle, like those outlined in “Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management.”
Civil society organizations and mining-affected communities in Europe are demanding stronger tailings management regulations, citing that as recently as 2007 Europe had the second highest rate of tailings dam failures of all global regions. Additionally, a European Implementation Assessment of the EU Mine Waste Directive found that the directive’s reporting system is “not fit for purpose” and its reporting tool suffers from “several deficiencies.” Dr. Emerman’s testimony shows the limitations of this directive, where inadequate tailings management practices are still being used five years after its implementation. Dr. Emerman concluded by urging parliamentarians not to “rush into opening new mines or expanding existing mines or re-opening closed mines in Europe without a convincing demonstration that there will be no adverse impacts on human life or the environment.”
Statement from Jan Morrill, Earthworks Tailings Campaign Manager:
“For too long the mining industry has been allowed to continue its dangerous practices and dodge accountability when safety standards fall short. It is clear that the status quo is failing to protect people, ecosystems and livelihoods from long-term pollution and tailings dam failures. The European Parliament should make good on its promise to fulfill the highest environmental and social standards worldwide and improve upon its mine waste regulations.”
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