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Europe’s quest for raw material autonomy: Navigating regulatory concerns in the mining industry

The European Commission is swiftly addressing Europe’s reliance on imported raw materials, but industry concerns loom over the continued use of ‘hazard-based assessments’ for project approvals, potentially hindering investment.

Recently, the EU finalized its strategy to diminish Europe’s dependency on mineral imports by identifying critical raw materials for prioritized domestic mining and recycling. Now that this legislation is in place, focus shifts to stimulating the minerals market in Europe for both sourcing and product usage.

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The challenges hindering mineral investment in Europe are well-known. As noted in a 2014 report by the Commission’s ad-hoc working group on minerals policy legal framework, land-use planning, and permitting, Europe possesses ample non-energy non-agricultural raw materials but lacks ensured access.

While speeding up permitting procedures for listed materials is specified in the Critical Raw Materials Act, ensuring long-term investor confidence and regulatory predictability remains a practical challenge.

As discussions unfold in the next EU legislative term, commencing in the Autumn, the balance between safeguarding the environment and promoting industry competitiveness will be paramount.

The minerals industry has long advocated for a shift in Europe’s approach to assessing environmental and health risks, expressing concerns over the prevalent use of “hazard-based assessments”. These assessments primarily focus on intrinsic substance properties without considering usage or exposure likelihood.

While hazard-based assessments align with the EU’s precautionary principle, which prioritizes safety in the absence of conclusive evidence of harm, they may impede innovation and economic growth by being overly conservative.

Conversely, risk-based assessments offer a more nuanced understanding of actual risks, considering exposure pathways, mitigation measures, and societal benefits. However, accurately assessing risks under this approach can be challenging due to data limitations and communication hurdles.

Environmental NGOs support the precautionary principle, contending that any relaxation risks deregulation at the expense of the environment and public health. They argue that industry concerns about the precautionary principle are unfounded and advocate for a ‘generic risk approach’.

The ongoing debate over hazard-based versus risk-based assessments reflects broader tensions between Europe’s resource security goals and regulatory principles. As Europe navigates this complex landscape, finding a middle ground that ensures both environmental protection and industry competitiveness will be imperative.

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