We have examined the processing times for issuing environmental licenses for mines and quarries in four different studies. The results show that the processing times for those licenses are not significantly longer than those for other comparable environmentally hazardous activities. However, we do see potential to increase the efficiency of the process.
An important result of the international comparative study is that the environmental standards the industry has to meet in Sweden are similar to those in other well-developed mining nations. The development of the domestic mining sector in Sweden, as in most countries, is dependent on global trends. National and regional laws regulating the mining sector are becoming increasingly similar. Requirements such as use of the best available technologies (BAT) and environmental impact assessments (EIA) are common. Furthermore we find that recurring delays in processing licenses are a global issue. For example, the adjudication process, which entails making complex judgments and balancing various conflicts of interest, while necessary, extends the processing time.
Two recent reforms have been passed concerning the adjudication bodies responsible for processing environmental licenses for mines and quarries, respectively – the establishment of the Land and Environment Court in 2011 and a major reduction in the number of Country Environmental Permit Offices in 2012. They also received increased appropriations two years after the reforms. Our study, based upon quantitative data on license applications and qualitative data from interviews, shows no evidence that the reforms have led to reduced processing times for licenses. However, in our interviews with mining companies, consultative bodes and representatives from the Courts, we find strong indications that the increased appropriations have had a positive effect.
We studied three mining projects and followed their application for environmental licenses and the ensuing adjudication process. We found that delays can occur at different stages in the process and this varies from case to case. When considered in light of the three criteria for an effective process – flexibility, predictability and knowledge – we find a high level of flexibility in the Swedish process. We also found, however, that there is room for improvement as to the predictability and knowledge criteria.
One precondition for an effective process is that that all concerned parties have sufficient resources and knowledge to enable them to participate actively. In all of the three cases we studied there was disagreement among parties as to what documents and materials the license application must contain in order to be processed. Although exploitation concessions are granted before an application for an environmental license can be made, two of the cases studied were delayed by unresolved land-use conflicts.
There is potential to improve the process for adjudicating environmental licenses, in particular in three areas: (1) handle land-use conflicts at an early stage, (2) support consultative bodies and affected parties so that they can participate in an active and timely fashion, and (3) bring increased clarity as to what materials are required in an application.
We have identified two models from other mining nations that can assist in addressing these issues. Specifically, the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in Finland has a quality assurance role concerning the environmental impact assessment and public participation. In Ontario, Canada, so-called Mining Development Officers advise companies on application requirements and the adjudication process.
Environmental licenses for mines and quarries – processing times and potential for increased efficiency