Principal applicable environmental laws

What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?

Environmental laws

The Ministry of Environment, together with subordinated regional ELY centres administer the laws relating to the environment.

Revised environmental protection legislation came into force on 1 September 2014 and some of its provisions during 2015. The revised Environmental Protection Act has recently been implemented in three phases. The new law implemented, among other things, the EU Directive on Industrial Emissions on a national level in addition to streamlining the environmental permit granting process and its supervision.

The Water Act controls the use of water resources and structures built along waterways.

The Waste Act prevents the generation of waste and reduces its hazardous or harmful features, promotes waste recovery and other organisation of waste management, prevention of littering and cleaning of sites that have become littered.

The Chemicals Act prevents health and environmental harm and danger of fire and explosions caused by chemicals.

Health and safety laws

The Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Units for Safety at Work administer the health and safety laws.

The Safety at Work Act sets out many standards, according to which an employer shall monitor and take care of the health of every employee. An employer shall also assess the health risks of an employee that are caused by conditions at any particular workplace and remove or minimise those risks.

There are many statutes concerning safe conditions in the workplace and how to handle explosives and various hazardous tools such as laser equipment, according to standards as set out by such statutes.

Environmental review and permitting process

What is the environmental review and permitting process for a mining project? How long does it normally take to obtain the necessary permits?

The nature and scope of the environmental permitting and review process is dependent on the nature of the project and the environmental effects thereof. A mining project requires an environmental permit. Before applying for an environmental permit, the applicant may need to carry out an assessment of environmental impacts that is handled by the competent ELY centre - a process that usually takes about one to two years. This will, however, be amended as a mining permit may in the future be applied without first carrying out an assessment of environmental impacts. After the change, one can get a priority to an area right after applying for a mining permit, even though the environmental impacts are not yet assessed. The environmental permit is granted by the competent AVI, based on a written application that includes a large number of statements, descriptions and other related material on the project. The permits required by the Water Act are often applied for and handled simultaneously with the environmental permit. In addition to the actual review of the permit application during the application process, many parties (such as the local municipality, the owners of real estates and the reindeer associations, if the project is within a reindeer management area) are heard. According to the environmental authorities, obtaining an environmental permit for a new project should take about 10 months. The actual length of the granting process depends on the size of the project, tempering and releases, objections to the project and further clarification possibly required by the authorities.

During the exploration phase, it may be necessary for the holder of the exploration permit to make a notification of the exploration work to the environment authorities in case the exploration work planned to be carried out may have a negative impact on the environment. Such notification is handled by the relevant regional environmental permit authority or the local supervising authority (depending on the nature of the actions to be carried out) that may set certain limitations and obligations that need to be followed by the exploration permit holder in connection with the exploration work to be carried out, otherwise the exploration work may be prohibited.

Closure and remediation process

What is the closure and remediation process for a mining project? What performance bonds, guarantees and other financial assurances are required?

When the holder of a mining permit relinquishes or loses the mining right, the area covered by the mining permit will be returned to the holder of the surface rights without compensation (assuming that the mining company has not purchased the surface rights). The holder of the mining permit may, however, keep the products of the mine, the buildings built on the surface and equipment in the area for two years. Unless removed within that time period, they become, without compensation, the property of the holder of the surface rights.

In connection with the granting of the mining permit, the permit holder will have to deposit a collateral to the mining authority for the purpose of termination and aftercare measures of mining operations that is sufficient in view of the nature and extent of mining activity, the permit regulations issued for the activity and collateral demanded by virtue of other legislation.

After relinquishing or losing the mining permit, the holder has to, without delay, secure the area in such a way that it fulfils the requirements for safety in general. The mine closure and remediation questions are handled before the commencement of any mining actions as a part of the environmental permit process. The environmental permit includes terms regarding the closure of a mine such as restoration of the environment and prevention of tampering. Such terms, generally, will provide for obligations for removal of buildings, equipment and infrastructure, handling of the waste materials and restoration of the landscape, including the revegetation. The environmental permit includes the terms for closure and restoration, based on which, the costs for such operations can be estimated to a general level. The final closure and restoration activities are confirmed in a closure plan, which has to be delivered for approval to the environmental permit authority prior to closure of the mine.

In connection with the granting of the environmental permit, the mining company is required to provide a security for the fulfilment of the closure and restoration obligations. The amount is set by the authorities and the security is generally required in the form of a bank guarantee or bank deposit.

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

The tailing and waste dam safety requirements are defined in the Dam Safety Act (494/2009) and the Government Decree on Dam Safety (319/2010). The act and the decree require that a person planning the construction of the dam as well as the person in charge of the use of the dam, surveillance and inspections, has the requisite experience taking into account the quality of the dam and danger of disaster. Before a dam is taken into use, it needs to receive a risk classification, and the construction plans of dams and ponds, the risk assessment report and the surveillance programme all need to be approved by the environmental permit authority. For dams that may cause substantial danger to life or health of individuals (Class 1), a more detailed risk assessment report is required. These are preconditions for obtaining an environmental permit, the receipt of which is required to carry out mining activities (see question 36).

A dam owner has a general obligation to design and construct a dam in such a way that its use does not constitute any safety hazard. This obligation includes repair and alteration works to the dam. The designer of the dam needs to be professionally qualified and the persons in charge of the operation and management of the dam need to have the necessary knowledge.

No specific mine safety permit is required for the dam. However, compliance with the mine safety legislation is required as it is a prerequisite for obtaining environmental and other permits for constructing the dam.

The owner of the dam is primarily responsible for the surveillance of the dam. Monitoring frequency depends on the dam. Monitoring can be continuous, weekly or take place over three-month intervals, for instance. Dam inspections include inspections while under construction, and when the dam is taken into use, annual inspections as well as periodic inspections. The owner of the dam must:

  • inspect the condition and safety of a Class 1 and 2 dam at least once a year, and notify the written report prepared on the inspection of a Class 1 dam to the dam safety authority;
  • organise a period inspection of Class 1-3 dams at least every five years and, where necessary, more frequently, in which the dam safety authority and rescue authorities have the right to participate; and
  • notify via a written report of the periodic inspection to the dam safety authority.

Emergency planning for dam accidents and rescue operations in the event of an accident are the responsibility of the regional rescue authorities, as set forth in the Dam Safety Act (494/2009) and Rescue Act (379/2011). Any requirements on alarm systems, emergency drills and responsibilities between the company and the authorities regarding the rescue of people are determined by the regional rescue authorities on a case-by-case basis. The owner of the dam must:

  • notify the dam safety authority of emergency calls and exceptional situations related to dam safety;
  • assist the rescue authorities in performing rescue activity together with the dam safety authority; and
  • with due consideration of the dam hazard, take the necessary actions to prevent a dam accident and to limit the damages caused by an accident.