Spain may not comply with the conditions on the closure of coal mines, warn NGOs

The International Institute of Law and the Environment IIDMA, Ecologistas en Acción and ClientEarth have conveyed to the European Commission their doubts about Spain’s compliance with Council Decision 2010/787/EU on State aid to facilitate the closure of non-competitive mines. The organizations sent a joint letter on 27 June setting out facts and figures that call into question whether certain companies are complying with the conditions of the Closure Plan. The organizations also require the Commission to analyze the possible cases of non-compliance identified, to clarify its position on the matter and to take action if the information presented is true.

European legislation does not permit the partial closure of the mines included in the Plan, which must be completely closed before the end of December this year unless they repay the aid granted to them to compensate for any economic losses. However, some of the Spanish mining companies intend to separate wells within the production units so that they can continue to operate after the end of 2018, which is contrary to the Council Decision and also to the EC Decision approving the Plan. This is the case of the state-owned company HUNOSA, which recently announced its intention to keep the Nicolasa Well* open, which would mean separating it from the Caudal Production Unit. This is prohibited as it has received grants to ensure full closure.

In addition, these subsidies were granted to assist the closure of certain mining production units that were not profitable in the context of a fair transition process. Despite this, according to information published in the media, some companies in Asturias that have benefited from this type of aid and are in the process of being liquidated are considering selling the mines to third parties, with the idea of keeping them open beyond 2018, without the need for the purchasing company to repay the aid previously received. These acts would be encouraged by the Government of Asturias itself, which supports keeping them in operation. Such manoeuvres are contrary to law and the European Commission should therefore penalise them, since the aid is linked to the sites and not to their owners. Therefore, regardless of who the owner is, the aid will have to be repaid if it is to be kept open in accordance with EU decisions, as only unprofitable mines may be eligible for aid. Those that continue to operate after 31 December 2018 must be returned.

“The cases identified are contrary to law and contravene the objective of the Mine Closure Plan. It is urgent that Spain and the Government of Asturias work now to ensure a just transition for mining regions and workers. It is not possible to artificially maintain mines that are unprofitable and absorb aid that could be used in this just transition. We call on the European Commission to monitor the destination and end of subsidies and to ensure that they are used in the way laid down in legislation and closure plans” says Carlota Jover, IIDMA’s environmental lawyer.

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