EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES

European trade agency still assessing “substantive” information in Norway mine tailings case

The authority that regulates trade between the EU and Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland first called in February 2022 for information about the disposal of mining waste in Norwegian fjords.

A large office block in Brussels in dappled sunlight
ESA’s Brussels office. Jay Richardson / the sonification

Jay Richardson | 24 November 2023

The European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority (ESA) is still considering documents it received 21 months ago in response to a public call for information about the effects of mining waste in Norwegian waters.

ESA spokesperson Jarle Hetland said the “amount of information was quite substantive and this is why it is taking some time to go through everything.” In February this year the agency projected publishing interim findings from the investigation within months.

Asked how many responses ESA had received and from which respondents, Hetland said: “We are still assessing the responses to the call for information. Until that work has been finalised we are not able to comment on this.” The agency does not typically disclose documents relating to ongoing investigations, but has published its correspondence with the Norwegian government.

ESA opened the case on its own initiative in January 2021 after closing three other complaint cases on Nordic Mining’s waste deposit in Førdefjord from 2015, noting that it was “not ESA’s role to decide whether the project as such is good policy,” but instead to examine the “Norwegian decision-making process on the basis on EEA [European Economic Area] law.” The current case was prompted by a complaint from 11 Norwegian environment groups, including Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace Norway, WWF Norway, and the fishing union Norges Kystfiskarlag, while other complaints focused on mining waste disposal in projects by Nussir in Repparfjord and Rana Gruber in Ranfjord.

In October 2021, ESA published a set of “preliminary views,” writing that Norway had “failed to ensure compliance with its obligations arising from the Mining Waste Directive.” It said “several provisions of the Mining Waste Directive are not adequately implemented, or not transposed at all, into the Norwegian legal order,” and that the Norwegian Government’s “administrative practices for managing mining waste do not give comfort that the requirements and objectives of the Mining Waste Directive are met.”

Oslo District Court announced this week that the verdict in a lawsuit by Nature and Youth and Friends of the Earth Norway, which referenced the same EEA law and concluded on 4 October, had been postponed to 10 January.

In late October, an ESA delegation met with 10 Norwegian politicians, including Minister for Trade and Industry Jan Christian Vestre, whose department manages permits for mining. Arne Røksund, ESA President, said the agency was “very pleased with the constructive discussions.”  º

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