Short-guide to mobilize MEPs
The role of this guide
With upcoming hearings of candidates proposed as Commissioners, we are keen to know that the EU addresses the hard facts posed by cyanide-based mining. To do so, we need clear commitments from the future College of Commissioners, especially from the future Environmental (ENVI) Commissioner. We have drafted a series of questions to the ENVI candidates that MEPs including yours can in return, simply ask during the hearings.
Our hope is that together with your help, the candidate ENVI Commissioner will take-up our No Toxic Gold! during the hearings at the European Parliament in September.
Big mining operations often use toxic cyanide in the extraction process for metals such as gold, silver, copper etc. Cyanide is cheap and helps to separate the metal from the rock. In fact modern open-cast mining has become a chemical process rather than what many of us traditionally associate with mining. In modern gold mining large quantities of sodium cyanide are used to access the gold. To date more than 20 new cyanide based mines are proposed in 7 countries throughout the EU. For example, in Romania a Canadian miner proposes the largest open cast mine in Europe. At full production, the mine will evacuate 500,000 tons of rock per week; emit 134 kg of cyanide into the air per day and use between 13-15 million kilograms of cyanide per year during the 16-year mine life.
In May 2010 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on a general ban on the use of cyanide in mining technologies throughout the European Union. Nevertheless, the corporate lobby of the mining industry convinced the ENVI Commission ‘that a general ban on cyanide use would result in the closure of existing mines operating in safe conditions, and would have a detrimental effect on employment’. Since then, further communities throughout the EU have been faced with mine proposal that involve the use of cyanide. As a result they formed an alliance to oppose cyanide based gold-mining projects. From Greece, Romania, Spain, France, Turkey, FYROM, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Bulgaria to Finland, citizens are mobilizing to ensure that toxic cyanide is banned.
Environmental Commissioner Candidate’s Hearing
In september 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president-elect of the European Commission announced the portfolio assignments for the nominees to the European Commission. Mr. Karmenu Vella, Malta’s nominee, is scheduled to become commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
Hearings are expected to begin with the week of 29 September (source: European Voice) 2014. The parliamentary committee that will most probably lead the hearing is the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. The Italian MEP Giovanni La Via, a member of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) is the chairman. Counting 69 Members, the ENVI Committee is the leading legislative Committee of the European Parliament. For the complete list, see here.
Ask the MEPs part of the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety to address one of the questions below to Mr. Karmeanu Vella. Use Twitter and Facebook to inform MEPs. Here are their profiles. Join the twitterstorm between the 22th and the 29th of September using the#bancyanide hashtag to communicate to the ENVI MEPs .
- Cyanide is a killing agent (for humans)
This chemical product has harmful effects on human health, even at low doses. It can affect the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, ocular and dermal system, as it can be absorbed by skin contact. Health effects can last for months or years, from cancer risk to reproductive problems, hyperthyroidism or permanent damage to the nervous system.
According to the EU classification, cyanide is considered very toxic and dangerous for the environment (nature). While some hazardous chemicals, such as DDT are banned by the Stockholm Convention or Reach Directive, cyanide is still widely used, despite evidence that it may cause cancer or permanent damage to the nervous system.
Question to candidate Commissioner
- With more than 10 years passed since the catastrophic Baia Mare accident and given that large scale cyanide-based mines are proposed in densely populated areas in 7 EU countries, will you support the resolution adopted by European Parliament on a general ban on the use of cyanide in mining technologies?
- How do you intend to bring coherence between health, safety and other policies objectives on the topic of cyanide based mining, given that cyanide is among the “old” chemicals with a proven negative track-record on human and environmental health?
- Cyanide destroys pristine nature
Some of Europe’s most impressive biodiversity reserves – regions like Lapland, Galicia, Halkidiki or Transylvania, are threatened by cyanide-based mining projects. In Transylvania alone, 13 projects are in the pipeline. Millions of European citizens in Greece, Romania, France, Spain, Turkey, FYROM, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Finland will be faced with cyanide-based mining technologies that will mutilate landscapes and destroy these reserves, as well as pollute water resources.
Cyanide can kill all aquatic life of a river, turning the entire ecosystem into a dead water course. The mines’ tailing ponds that contain cyanide often leak or overflow (due to bad design and during extreme weather conditions); polluting aquifers and killing the wildlife that otherwise thrives in these lakes and streams.
The 2012 Eurobarometer survey on the environment reveals that chemical pollution is cited as the biggest threat to water resources by a majority of Europeans (84 %). Europeans consider that the main focus of measures to be taken should be on water pollution from industry (69 %).
Question to candidate Commissioner
- What concrete steps will you take to conform to the EC’s commitment to preserve Europe’s waters in the case of cyanide based mining activities? Will your support for the EP resolution on a general ban on the use of cyanide in mining technologies count amongst your actions to respect Europeans’ call for stronger EU action on Water?
- How do you plan to achieve and preserve the ‘good status’ of water resources and to prevent its pollution since the use of cyanide based mining may violate the Water Framework Directive?
- 3. Cyanide impoverishes regions and ends existing jobs
Despite rhetoric, research shows modern mining is not labor intensive and does not generate affluence. Studies show that ‘Even when these mines had full employment, the surrounding area continued to have high unemployment, higher than the average for the rest of the region’.
In addition, mining creates a significant, lasting impact on the local environment. It is land-intensive, has a profound footprint, and brings with it a level of environmental degradation that renders the area a less attractive location to live and work. This inhibits economic diversification critical for the economic prosperity of the wider community. According to a recent study the Rosia Montana proposal would actually generate around 100 jobs for locals in the peak year of production, but could destroy more than 22.000 jobs in the area for people working in agriculture, tourism, furniture production and traditional crafts.
While 80% consider that the economy influences their quality of life, 75 % think the state of the environment has a similar impact and 77 % of EU citizens believe that environmental problems have a direct effect on their daily lives. They worry, according to the 2014 Eurobarometer survey on the environment, most about pollution – air (56 %) and water pollution (50 %) ranking highest – as well as waste generation and the depletion of natural resources.
At the same time a study commissioned by the European Commision in 2010 to evaluate the ‘Impacts of Gold Extraction in the EU’ summed up : ‘None of the EU Member States are big gold producers, (…) and therefore it could be argued that a ban would have little effects economically across the EU – though there would of course be localised economic impacts”.
Equally, there is a great opportunity for job creation in the recovery of metals from electronic waste. Indeed the concentration of metals in discarded products is much higher than in virgin ore. The US EPA, estimates that circuit boards contain 40 to 800 times the concentrations of gold ore mined in the United States. Similarly, studies by Belgium-based materials technology company Umicore, (one of the world’s largest recyclers of heavy metals from electronic waste and industrial residues), show that urban mining can result in gold grades of 200-250g per ton from computer circuit boards, and 300-350g per ton from mobile phones. This contrasts with gold grades in primary mining of perhaps 5g per ton in ore, or even less.
Question to candidate Commissioner
- Where do you draw the line between the industry’s ‘job creation’ rhetoric and the constant threat to the environment posed by cyanide based mining? In this respect, how do you see EU’s future ENVI policies evolve?
- What steps will you take to promote investment in urban mining and recycling activities, reducing cyanide based mining technologies, in order to achieve EU’s circular economy goals?
- Will you include in your work programme an objective to support green employment in recycling precious metals as an alternative to cyanide based mining technologies? How do you plan to use the Structural Funds to encourage this kind of green employment represented by urban mining economic activities?
Commissioners’ hearing – step by step
Parliament approves the Commission as a body and evaluates the Commissioners-designate on the basis of their general competence.
- Parliament puts to the Commissioners-designate a series of written questions dealing mainly with the candidates’ policy priorities in their respective fields of responsibility. The candidates’ written replies provide the basis for the oral stage – the hearings.
- Each Commissioner-designate is invited to a three-hour public hearing with the parliamentary committee(s) responsible for the portfolio concerned. These hearings enable the committees to get to know the personalities of the Commissioners-designate and have a detailed exchange of views with the various candidates on their priorities in their prospective areas of responsibility.
- Lastly, Parliament votes on approval of the whole European Commission as a body. The new Commission can then be formally appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority.
How to propose questions for MEPs ahead of the hearings
- Whether you want to meet or write to your MEP all contacts including links their social media presence can be found here. Priority should be given to the 69 ENVI Committee members.
- If you want to meet your MEP call/email his/her office to make an appointment. Some MEPs return to their constituency office on Thursdays to hold office all day Friday, whilst others regularly come back home during constituency weeks. You can find MEPs’ constituency weeks for 2014 highlighted in turquoise colour here.
- Follow him/her on Facebook or Twitter and send him/her a post or a tweet or two. Communicate the suggested question that you have for the hearing.
European Parliament website: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/hearings/documents/default.htm?language=EN&folioId=3#
Eurobarometer survey on the environment 2014
Eurobarometer survey on the environment 2012
“Puncte de vedere ale majorității cetățenilor și mediului de afaceri din munții Apuseni, referitoare la impactul proiectului de exploatarea minieră de la Roșia Montană propus de RMGC”
A Mining Truth Report
Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
Short Circuit: The Lifecycle of our Electronic Gadgets and the True Cost to Earth