"We have all the conditions, if the country wants, to make this mining comply with in environmental regulations," said the Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms.
"European rules are clear: whoever takes responsibility for a particular area must ensure that the environmental impact is reduced, compensated, and therefore there is a whole range of European legislation that frames these mines," she added.
The commissioner, who is in charge of the so-called Fair Transition Fund, an instrument of the new European Ecological Pact designed to finance the energy transition in regions highly dependent on carbon, answered a question on whether investment in lithium exploitation, which is polluting, does not run counter to the objectives of this fund and the environmental commitment of the current European Commission.
The concession for lithium exploration in Montalegre and Boticas, which the Portuguese government claims is essential for the energy transition, is contested by environmental associations, town councils and the population, for its potential environmental consequences.
Elisa Ferreira distinguished lithium exploration from decarbonisation, explaining that the change from coal to other energies is urgent and, in some regions of Europe, will have very large social and economic impacts, which is why it is for those regions that this fund is intended.
"We have made some progress here concerning the initial proposals. In the beginning, this fund was only intended for some countries, basically, the Eastern countries, now all countries have access, in the Commission's proposal," she said.
"It was only for coal areas and we have extended it to areas, industries, which need to make a transition, and which are very polluting,” she added.
According to the proposal released on 16 January by the European Commission, Portugal will raise €79.2 million with the new Fair Transition Fund, being halfway through the European Union's table of countries, which is led by Poland, Germany and Romania.
Portugal will have 1.1 percent of the total amount of this fund earmarked for the decarbonisation of regions that are particularly dependent on fossil fuels, which is €7.5 billion.
In Portugal, the Sines and Pego coal-fired power stations - whose closure the government has already announced for 2023 and 2021 respectively - are eligible for these future Community subsidies, as are other industries or companies with strong carbon dioxide emissions.
Lithium exploration must have low environmental impact
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