Note: Given the rise of the movement for independence in Catalonia, this article on Galicia is particularly timely. Thanks to our colleague Manuel Casal Lodeiro from Instituto Resiliencia for this article.
About Galicia (from Wikipedia): Galicia (English: /ɡəˈlɪθiə/; Galician: Galicia [ɡaˈliθja], [ɡaˈliθa]; Spanish: Galicia; Portuguese: Galiza) is an autonomous community of Spain and historic nationality under Spanish law.
“Industrial civilization based on permanent growth fueled by fossil fuels, born with the Industrial Revolution will no longer be viable in a period of time difficult to specify but that studies indicate will occur in five to twenty years (from 2020 ~ 2035). This situation will end centuries of exponential growth both of energy consumption as well as of the human population.”
- From The left before the collapse of industrial civilization. Notes for an urgent debate (2016)
The Depredation of Galicia: Behind the Scenes
The so-called Law of Depredation of Galicia (euphemistically denominated Law of Encouragement of the Implementation of Business Initiatives) is a legal text that even the Junta of Galicia did not have the courage to present as initiative of the government. There are reasons of convenience here (the urgency and ‘agonizing’ procedures have sought to elude the public debate) but also in substance. Beyond the obvious intertwining of the PP -promoter of the law- and the most obvious beneficiaries – the large extractive lobbies, the writing evidences internal warfare within the administration motivated by dishonest or manifestly illicit practices that are not always accepted by the civil service.
There is no doubt that the General Directorate of Energy and Mines, Ángel Bernardo Tahoces, one of the drafters in the shadow of the proposal of the law, literally rewriting much of the legislation that regulates the mining and energy sectors. However, some of the articles most challenged by the social movements are those that limit or directly prevent the controls and counterweights of the other sectoral organs of the administration, particularly the Galician Waters. The virulence of the new legislation against water management is truly unusual.
Only one month for the reports of the Waters of Galicia
In the amendment to the Mining Ordinance, the deadline for Águas to issue its reports is reduced to only one month, stating that “no prunings received afterwards” (even if negative) will be taken into account. In the mine department it is known that the fulfillment of this deadline by a depleted hydraulic administration of personnel and means is impossible, guaranteeing the silence with respect to future polluting projects. Even so, the article even includes coercive elements to punish officials in other departments “responsible for delay”.
The aim of the law is not only to weaken and prevent the different substantive controls on activities under the responsibility of the Directorate of Energy and Mines, but to erect the department itself as an omnipotent entity, whose reports will replace “for all purposes, the corresponding authorizations that (…) the applicant is required to request such [sectoral] bodies “. We will thus see Tahoces authorizing discharges of wastewater in the public hydraulic domain, declaring the prevalence of public utility for mining or energy uses on agricultural lands, or allowing the destruction of pits and castros. In fact, all these cases are not hypothetical, but real examples of recent years; experiences that explain the emergence of this law.
Since in 2009 Tahoces assumes the Directorate General of Energy and Mines on multiple occasions are other departments of the Board that should stop their feet to the voragem destructive and pollutant abandeirada in the motto Galicia is a mine. In the case of the Sanfins Mines in Lousame, Tahoces completely ignored the condition of submitting the exploration to the environmental impact assessment procedure, authorizing it despite the generation of acid mine drainage discharged in large quantities a few kilometers from the Muros estuary and Noia, without any treatment. This situation was brought to the notice of the Galician Waters in 2016, which partially paralyzed the project, despite numerous writings and calls from the Director General of Minas to allow the discharge of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of water contaminated by heavy metals without treatment and outside the legally established authorization procedure. With the Law of Depredation, this procedure would be appropriate directly to the mine department.
Since his arrival in the department, Tahoces has sought first to resolve internal dissent with the aim of making the agency a true extension of the mining lobby within the Junta. In another well-known mine of the same Sanfins mine group, the Varilongo mine in Santa Comba, Tahoces was found, as soon as it arrived in 2009, with a report from the engineer-employee responsible for the exploration to indicate that the mine was to undergo the environmental impact assessment for generating acid mine drains. Four months later, the engineer became deputy director general of Mineral Resources, replacing the same engineer working on the Sanfins mines, who produces new reports in which the problem of acid mine drainage disappears (downstream). In the two examples, definitive decisions that established the condition of submitting extractive activity to environmental impact assessment are ignored. The new law will facilitate the supremacy of the mines department outside substantive bodies such as Waters, Environment, Rural Environment or Heritage, generating ‘express environmental assessments’ controlled by official employees related to the sector.
Attack on the right to environmental information
Another major battles waged by Tahoces is against the right to environmental information recognized by the Aarhus Convention. The mine department currently has dozens of complaints filed with the Transparency Commission, the Valedora do Povo and even the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention at the United Nations. The information is important so that affected neighborhoods and environmental entities can face new and old projects with knowledge of the cause, which has motivated the systematic denial of requests for information, either from the General Directorate or Territorial Committees more openly committed to the pro-sector policy line, forcing entities to spend thousands of euros on lengthy court cases to get a bundle of copies. In practice, the dilatory strategy achieves the desired deprotection.
With the new Depredation Law, the determination of data subject to professional secrecy and intellectual and industrial property is left in the hands of the requesting miners themselves, so that the most important and problematic aspects of any environmentally sensitive project (detailed design of the systems waste water treatment, reagents and other chemical elements used in benefit facilities, etc.) will be hidden from public scrutiny, forcing entities and individuals back into long legal proceedings to obtain basic environmental information.
But the most disturbing of the law is not its content, but the context of its approval, in the meridian of the legislature and in the face of a massive mining rights contest that could imply the approval of dozens of mega-projects in a matter of a few months, taking previously disarticulated the responsiveness of the other sectoral administrations and society, which are prevented from issuing reports or accessing the information. The civil reaction must be to strengthen the response, collaboration and self-organization of the movement against extractivism, accompanied by a legal battle against an impossible law.
The Platform against the Depredation Law is composed of some twenty social collectives and ecologists from Galicia.