In Spain, the people of Cáceres oppose the implementation of a mining project that the government continues to promote in spite of everything. As the author of this article says, “the administration is agile with large companies and slow, very slow and obscurantist with the citizens it represents”.

An update and detailed review unravelling the complex crux of legal acts, intervening actors and crossed interests that accompany the contested lithium mine project in Cáceres.

By Montaña Chaves Pedrazo, environmental activist, in El Salto diario

The regional government of Extremadura is speeding up the procedures for the lithium mine in Cáceres and granting the exploration permit to another company that recently changed its registered office from Salamanca to Cáceres. This strategy of Infinity Lithium and Extremadura New Energies (ENE) opens a new permit called Extremadura S. E., which was strategically placed at the back and waiting for its activation if the Junta rejected the permit called Valdeflórez, as it has happened.

The Junta de Extremadura is making a serious mistake, because it does not notify the resolution nor does it provide the new dossier to the associations, small local companies affected and individuals involved in the new administrative dossier, thereby incurring a serious lack of defence and helplessness, after waiting for weeks and recurrently insisting on the request for communication.

However, the mining company has been given, notified and approved this gigantic permit covering 9,305 hectares, thus opening the door to direct exploitation, threatening the green lung of the city and potentially turning Cáceres into a sacrifice zone.

The project could soon become a reality. The administration is agile with the big companies and slow, very slow and obscurantist with the citizens it represents. An example is the slowness for the declaration of the Protected Landscape for the Sierra de la Mosca, an application registered on 25 June 2019, four years ago.

The Consejería de Transición Ecológica de la Junta reported yesterday that the mining exploration permit for 315 squares has been granted, affecting the municipalities of Valdesalor, Cáceres, Sierra de Fuentes and Torreorgaz. The concession extends from the Valdesalor reservoir to the Guadiloba, a wide rectangle that even covers part of the urban area of the capital city of Cáceres. This approval of such an extremely extensive permit over a World Heritage city has no precedent.

Castilla Mining is linked to Infinity Lithium and Tonsley Mining, and when it moved its registered office from Salamanca to Cáceres it already raised suspicions about this new move in the complicated and convoluted chess game they have been playing since 2016.

The important thing about this permit is that it opens the door for the company to submit the application for direct exploitation of the deposit. It will be within this administrative soap opera, which has been going on all over the place from the start, that it will be decided if there is a mine or not, with the expectation that it will all end up in court. Of course, we will never throw in the towel or resign ourselves.

The company has always wanted to go through the mining concession procedure. It reached this point for an open-cast mine, but we managed to reverse the procedure due to a lack of transparency and public information. They tried again through the previous research permit of Valdeflórez, but the Junta denied it and it was ratified by the Court number 1, and now it is on appeal in the High Court of Justice of Extremadura.

The CEO (investigated by the Murcia Prosecutor’s Office in the La Sal case), Ramón Jiménez, commented that there would be no problem in demonstrating the presence of lithium at Valdeflores, data that has not been provided by Minas either and which has been requested since January 2020.

With the exploration permit, the company will be able to carry out studies in areas of rustic soils using aerial methods and surface sampling. No probes, test pits or prospecting, because the terrain cannot be altered. In the ruling that confirmed the refusal of the Valdeflórez research permit, the research work was considered to be extractive activities, and these are prohibited by the PGM.

This new permit has not been subjected to the prior process of public exposure, nor has it been notified to the Plataforma Salvemos la Montaña, nor has it been allowed access to the file as interested parties. This administrative fault and error, as mentioned above, is very serious and will be denounced.

If the company demonstrates the presence of sufficient quantities of minerals to be exploited, the next step will be the exploitation concession. At that point the company will have to present its complete project together with the restoration plan, the economic viability project and the environmental impact study. All the documentation will be submitted for public information and will have to collect sectoral reports from the administrations and, most likely, numerous citizen allegations against it. This will be the moment when it will be decided whether there will be a mine or not, and at that point the environmental impact statement from the Directorate General for Sustainability – the famous EIS – will be decisive, binding and mandatory, and the approval of the municipal licences will be the last and decisive administrative step.

But in order for the company to be able to present all the documentation, it is necessary for the regional ministry to send it the results of the Scoping Document with the objections or environmental considerations on the initial project document that the company presented last September. For its part, the mining company has stated that it hopes to have the exploitation permit in the first quarter of 2024.

With the Extremadura lithium decree law, the exploitation will be processed as a business project of regional interest (PREMIA), as it is considered to be of public utility or social interest, thus shortening the timeframe by half. However, as it is a lithium mining project, it will require a licence from the town council, which maintains its competence and local autonomy in matters of town planning.

According to the mayor, Luis Salaya, the location of the mine mouth and the industrial plant is next to the Ex-206, on the road to Miajadas, opposite the well-known El Castúo cheese factory. Of the three locations that were proposed, this is the one considered most viable by the town council.

The council has already drawn up a report, a report which has not yet been made public and which some councillors, such as Francisco Alcántara and Mar Díaz, are requesting that it be done at once, as they expressed in the plenary session held last December. There, the mayor again commented that two of the three locations proposed by the company to open the mouth of the underground access to the mine and to locate the lithium treatment plant and its annexed facilities (waste deposit, ponds, stockpiles, dumps, tailings, leachates, car parks, offices, changing rooms, etc.) are unacceptable. From here, an underground tunnel would lead to the Valdeflores site.

According to Article 3 of Law 5/2022, the effects of qualification as a business project of regional interest are as follows:

a) They will have a priority and urgent nature for the entire regional administration. It will entail the application of urgent processing to the administrative procedures provided for in the regional regulations, in accordance with article 33 of Law 39/2015, of 1 October, on the Common Administrative Procedure of the Public Administrations, reducing by half the ordinary deadlines established, except for those of the regional administration.
the ordinary deadlines established, with the exception of those relating to the presentation of applications and appeals.

b) The urban planning licence or, where appropriate, the licence for works and provisional uses may be substituted by the consultation procedure under the terms established in the urban planning regulations. This substitution shall not apply to lithium mineral resource exploitation concession projects.

We will stay tuned, because there are still many more chapters to be told. In the light of everything that accompanies this popular struggle, 28 May looks to be decisive for the next episode at state level and in Cáceres.

The original article can be found here