The polluter pays principle will not be met either the end of coal mining in Spain. In this specific case, whoever degrades natural environments with open-pit mines and slag heaps will not face the cost of their restoration, as established by legislation. The Government assumes that the guarantees that the owners of the mines deposited in their day "are not enough", with which the State must bear the expenses of the environmental recovery of those environments.
THE LAST MINES OF CARBON OF EUROPE
Mines closed in 2019. Production in 2017 in thousands of tons
Except for a small well in Asturias – from the public company Hunosa -, the extraction of coal in Spain has come to an end this 2019. In October, when the Government and the mining sector signed the framework agreement that ratified the end of this activity, there were 12 mines in production in the country, according to the text of that pact. And most of the companies that own the deposits were already in a situation of bankruptcy or liquidation, which makes it even more complicated to require them to restore the deposits, according to sources from the Ministry for the Ecological Transition.
The October agreement stated that "mining companies, in their capacity as operators, are obliged to assume all the measures defined in the restoration plan" of the deposits and, therefore, bear the expenses of " environmental rehabilitation and closure of the exploitation ". But, then, the agreement adds: "Taking into account the situation of coal mining companies will be implemented aid to help defray the rehabilitation of the affected natural space." Five days ago, the Council of Ministers approved a line of aid worth 20 million for the years 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 to cover "costs derived from the closure of the facilities and the rehabilitation of the natural area." But those already approved aid, explain sources of the Government, will only be able to receive three mining companies that are not in bankruptcy: two of Aragon -Sam and General Company Minera de Teruel- and another of Leon -Baldomero García's sons-.
For the rest of the companies that have closed the closure, the public company Tragsa is preparing an inventory of mines that must be restored. In principle, the focus is on 26 deposits: the 12 mines that were active until this year and many others that have been closed during this decade. Tragsa, explain sources of the ministry, is also analyzing the guarantees that had deposited before the autonomous communities the owners of the mines.
These guarantees, which the law requires to be presented, are designed, precisely, to avoid that when a company closes it avoids the environmental recovery. "We know that guarantees are not enough," say ministry sources. "The guarantees are ridiculous; in some cases, they have not been updated for 20 years ", they added. The ministry justifies that the State assumes the cost in which these restoration tasks, which may last for years, are a way to relocate the workers affected by the closure of mining and fix the population to the territories.
The current Government has developed a transition strategy for this sector that includes 158.5 million for the next five years for restoration work for mines whose owners have declared bankruptcy. But, in any case, the application of that strategy will depend on the result of the April 28 elections. During this decade, the State has allocated 500 million direct aid for coal mines.
"It's a bargain. Coal has been the roundest business in this country, "laments Víctor Rodríguez, ex-miner of Villablino (León) and a member of the environmental organization Filón Verde. "There were aid to extraction, to transport, to the burning of coal in the power plants. And now also to the restoration, "he adds.
Rodriguez knows well one of the most striking cases in Spain, that of the open pit mines of the Alto Sil Valley. The Court of Justice of the EU condemned Spain in 2011 for allowing several farms in that protected area. And he ordered Spain to restore the area. Finally, last week the European Commission ended up filing this file after restoring the area with a plan that has cost 35.5 million; the Junta de Castilla y León has had to put almost 33 million euros of public funds because the guarantees put forward by the owners of the deposits only reached 2.7 million, according to Filón Verde. "The endorsements are ridiculous when they should have been dissuasive", summarizes Luis Álvarez, member also of this ecological association of León.