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Promoting sustainable development in the non-energy extractive industry

The Commission sets out broad policy lines for promoting sustainable development in the EU non-energy extractive industry while reconciling the competitiveness of the industry with environmental protection.

ACT

Communication from the Commission promoting sustainable development in the EU non-energy extractive industry.

SUMMARY

The communication covers the extraction of all solid minerals, except coal and uranium. Lignite, peat, brown coal and oil shale are also excluded from the scope of the communication.

Characteristics of the European extractive industry

The extractive industry is often divided into three subsectors: metallic minerals (iron, copper, zinc, etc.), construction materials (natural stone, sand, limestone, chalk, etc.) and industrial minerals (talc, feldspar, salt, potash, sulphur, etc.).

The extractive industry is present across the Community and is relatively evenly spread over its territory. The subsector where production is more concentrated concerns metallic minerals, where Finland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden together account for some 75% of total EU production.

The EU remains highly dependent on imports for its raw materials supply. It is the world's largest consumer of minerals.

The European metallic minerals industry has to face up to very intense world competition and it has invested a great deal outside the Community. As regards construction materials, the European Union is a major world producer and is largely self sufficient. Natural stone is an important export product. In the industrial minerals subsector, competition has increased markedly in recent years. Geological deposits determine the location of extractive operations. The economic viability of deposits is determined by several factors (type and grade of the ore, depth of the deposit and the technical process/design that can be used for the extraction).

Environmental impact of extractive operations

From the point of view of the environment, extractive operations raise two types of concern: the use of non-renewable sources may mean that these resources will not be available for future generations and extractive operations harm the environment (air, soil and water pollution, noise, destruction or disturbance of natural habitats, visual impact on the surrounding landscape, effects on groundwater levels).

The waste produced by the extractive industry is a major problem. Mining waste is among the largest waste streams in the Community and some of that waste is dangerous.

Abandoned mine sites and unrestored quarries spoil the landscape and can pose severe environmental threats due especially to acid mine drainage.

The existing legislative framework

The Directive on environmental impact assessment covers open pit mining and quarries, where the surface of the site exceeds 25 hectares.

The deposit of waste from the processing of minerals (tailings) in a pond is covered by Directive 99/31/EC on the landfill of waste, which lays down requirements concerning the authorisation and construction of landfills, the types of waste acceptable at landfills and the monitoring procedures.

Minerals processing is covered by the Directive concerning integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC), which also lays down that pollution must be prevented or reduced through the use of best available techniques (BAT).

The Community eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) provides an instrument to integrate environmental concerns in the extractive industry. The reports required under this scheme provide a means for the industry to publicise its environmental performance.

The operations of the extractive industry will also be covered by the new Water Framework Directive.

Measures for sustainable development of the extractive industry

Priority issues for the integration of the environment into the extractive industry include prevention of mining accidents, improvement of the overall environmental performance of the industry and sound management of mining waste.

The Commission announces the presentation shortly of a communication reviewing Community legislation on the safe operation of mining installations, accompanied by an action plan.

The Commission is proposing to extend the scope of the Seveso II Directive to extractive activities.

A study on the management of mining waste and the assessment of related environmental risk will be completed during 2000. On the basis of the results of the study, a Directive on the management of mining waste may be proposed.

The Commission is proposing to draw up an inventory of abandoned mine sites and unrestored quarries which spoil the landscape and may pose environmental threats.

As a result of the exchange of information under the IPPC Directive, it will be possible to produce a document on the best available technology to reduce pollution and prevent or mitigate accidents in the extractive industry.

The White Paper on environmental liability reinforces the key principles of polluter-pays, prevention and precaution and others to be taken into account by the extractive industry.

The Commission is carrying out a study on voluntary environmental agreements in the European Union. On the basis of its findings, the Commission will further assess the potential use of such instruments in the extractive industry. This communication points out that several companies in the sector have adopted codes of conduct, best practice guides and policies on environmental protection.

The communication stresses that the development of environmental performance indicators would make it possible to establish a detailed assessment of the industry's environmental performance. Resource use, discharges to air and water and land use are proposed as indicators. These indicators must provide for common measuring standards to allow for comparison of performance.

The communication stresses the importance of finding an approach for the extractive industry which takes greater account of the environment and land use planning.

Extractive operations may help to arrest depopulation in certain areas. As those operations have a finite life however, it is necessary to consider how lasting economic effects can be created in those areas.

The Commission points to the very rapid technological progress in the sector. It encourages the extractive industry to develop a common European platform to take advantage of the potential which the European research area will offer.

The Commission is willing to facilitate a framework to intensify the dialogue between the Member States, both sides of industry, NGOs, the Commission and other stakeholders. It invites all these parties to make proposals on the objectives, constitution and format of such a framework.

Role of the Member States

The competent authorities of the Member States are invited to ensure access to sites for the extractive industry and guarantee a high level of environmental protection, e.g. by incorporating environmental protection rules in their laws on mines.

The Commission invites the Member States to equip themselves with the administrative structures needed to maintain a business climate conducive to investment in the industry. To achieve this, it suggests the organisation of benchmarking of mining legislation.

The Commission recommends that public authorities in Member States adequately balance the need for land access for industry with the need for a high level of environmental protection. Member States are also invited to share experiences and information in this area.

The Commission recommends that Member States study the industry's needs for higher education and welcomes the fact that a number of universities and the European industry have set up a network for cooperation and student exchange in the field of mining and mineral engineering.

The extractive industry in the candidate countries

The extractive industry in the candidate countries faces great difficulties in meeting the environmental requirements of the Community. In those circumstances, the Commission urges these countries to speed up privatisation and restructuring of the industry. The communication also recommends making an inventory of the problems in the sector in order to be able to prepare a strategy.

The communication mentions the development of new extractive operations and industrial cooperation as effective ways of developing the sector in candidate countries.

RELATED ACTS

Directive 2006/21/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the management of waste from extractive industries [Official Journal L 102 of 11.04.2006].
This directive introduces measures to prevent or minimise any adverse effects on the environment and resultant risks to health resulting from the management of waste from the extractive industries, such as tailings and displaced material. In particular, it contains provisions relating to facilities for the management of waste from the extractive industries, measures for the management of this waste, and the inspections to be carried out.

Last updated: 14.08.2007
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