On Thursday, the Riksdag pointed out the direction for when Natura 2000 testing will be done in the process for new mines. It was clear when the Committee on Industry and Trade’s initiative, initiated by the Moderate Party, was voted through.
– A common sense victory over misdirected environmental benefits, says Maria Sunér, CEO Svemin.
Sweden is Europe’s most significant mining nation, with excellent conditions to play an important role with the green transition. Sweden’s bedrock has the potential for more than half of the critical raw materials on the EU list. But today there is great concern about inefficient and protracted permit processes. The government’s decision on Laver (Swe.), which came in December 2020, has further aggravated the situation. The government’s notice means that a Natura-2000 permit (if applicable) must be in place before a processing concession can be granted, compared to applying for it in connection with the later environmental assessment, as for other activities.
– It is obvious that mining projects must carry out a Natura 2000 test in cases where it is relevant. But then it must take place in connection with the later step, the application for an environmental permit according to the Environmental Code, says Maria Sunér.
Above all, there are two reasons.
Firstly, it is a matter of simply not knowing enough about the deposit, the land and the water and what a future mining operation should look like already when applying for a processing concession. There is therefore too little factual basis at that stage to be able to say how a nearby Natura 2000 area could be affected.
– You have to make a large number of assumptions about the deposit, the land and the water. A Natura 2000 test at a premature stage becomes almost cosmetic because it probably needs to be redone in connection with the next step, the environmental test, says Maria Sunér. – It is neither process economically nor legally secure, a pure waste of tax money.
Secondly, it is a matter of the government’s decision increasing the uncertainty for the extensive investments required on the road to a mine establishment. Sweden has already plummeted on the international ranking of the attractiveness of mining countries. The mining industry needs increased clarity, more predictable and more efficient permit processes in order to remain strong, not more regulatory hassles.
With Thursday’s decision, the government’s decision is being challenged and the Riksdag is sending the ball over to the government again. They must return to the Riksdag no later than 30 June 2022 with a proposal which means that a Natura 2000 permit shall not be a prerequisite for a processing concession to be granted.
– The industry is relieved that the committee initiative was voted through, but thinks that the follow-up is crazy too far in the future. Our hope is that the government will return sooner, says Maria Sunér. There are good reasons to handle the case urgently as the government’s review of Laver took about four years. Now the government must show that it does not oppose the mining industry with more lengthy processes.
The case is basically about the decision made by the government the night before Christmas Eve last year. At that time, Boliden’s copper project Laver in Älvsbyn municipality had its application for a processing concession rejected on the grounds that a Natura 2000 permit was required even before a processing concession application could be examined. The industry lashed out, the consequences became very extensive and the decision created an aggravating practice and an additional increased uncertainty for everyone who applies for a processing concession in the vicinity of Natura 2000 sites. The political handling is remarkable in a state governed by the rule of law.
This was also the opinion of a majority in the Committee on Industry and Trade, which took a committee initiative so that, after all, a Natura permit will not be required already when applying for a processing permit. On Thursday, the initiative was voted through in the Riksdag. The Government shall return to the Riksdag no later than 30 June 2022.
> See the mineral policy debate in the Riksdag from 2021-04-21 here (Swe.)