EC takes first step toward coherent policy for a sustainable extractive industry

A Communication on the development of a sustainable development strategy for the non-energy extractive industry has been published by the Enterprise Directorate General of the European Commission.

Describing the historical environmental legacy of the EU extractive industry as ‘unsatisfactory’, the Communication outlines the EC’s present thinking and promises:

  • an inventory of abandoned mine sites and unrestored quarries
  • a study of voluntary safety and environmental initiatives in the industry and assessment of their effectiveness
  • a Communication containing an Action Plan on mining waste management

In general, the EC sets out the extractive industry’s priorities for sustainable development as comprising a) prevention of mining accidents, b) improvement of the overall environmental performance and c) sound management of mining waste, including recycling.

On the issue of prevention of accidents, the Communication suggests the Seveso II Directive as being the most appropriate vehicle for improving mining safety regulation. “The current scope of the Directive does not clearly include mining activities and/or tailing ponds or dams, and it could be reviewed in order to assess how extractive activities could be covered,” reads the Communication.

On the subject of environmental management and reporting, the Communication states that progress is needed and that the extractive industry “can be described as a late follower with regard to the take-up of the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme or other environmental management systems … Nevertheless take-up is increasing rapidly”. It also emphasises that the majority of the EU extractive industry is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Mentioning the Baia Mare cyanide and heavy metal spill (see related story) in Romania and the Aznalcollar accident in Spain, the Communication points out that “mining waste is among the largest waste streams in the Community”.

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