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Fortifying Europe’s energy independence: The Critical Raw Materials Act and accelerated permitting for renewable technologies

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine served as a catalyst for global energy transition efforts, particularly within the European Union (EU). In response, the EU introduced the REPower EU policy, augmenting the Green Deal to diminish reliance on Russian gas and foster investments in renewables through the Green Industrial Action Plan. A pivotal aspect of this plan is the enactment of the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), aimed at ensuring a sustainable and diverse supply of critical raw materials vital for renewable technologies.

Signed into law on April 11th by the European Parliament and Council, the CRMA delineates a robust framework to secure critical raw materials crucial for renewable technologies. This legislation identifies 34 critical raw materials, 17 of which are deemed strategic. The CRMA mandates that no more than 65% of the EU’s annual consumption of these 17 strategic metals should originate solely from third countries, establishing benchmarks to fortify the EU’s supply chain resilience.

To fulfill the CRMA’s target of 10% local extraction, a streamlined permit-granting process has been introduced to assist project developers in navigating national mining permit procedures. This expedited process aims to fast-track permits via a single permitting authority, incorporating an efficient administrative and dispute resolution mechanism. However, this expedited process remains contingent upon robust public engagement, community involvement, and indigenous rights protection.

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Strategic projects, defined by specific criteria outlined in the CRMA, are afforded priority status in the national permitting procedure. These projects undergo rapid processing by national authorities, with streamlined assessments and considerations for environmental impact and sustainability. Notably, the CRMA emphasizes the importance of meaningful engagement with affected communities and adherence to international environmental conventions.

Furthermore, the CRMA promotes spatial planning and zoning initiatives to facilitate critical raw mineral exploitation, subject to strategic environmental assessments. While the CRMA’s streamlined permitting process aims to address administrative bottlenecks, concerns have been raised regarding potential compromises to public rights and environmental protection.

Critics argue that fast-tracking projects may undermine public participation and environmental safeguards. To ensure the success of critical raw mineral projects and uphold environmental integrity, transparency, and meaningful community engagement are imperative. Ultimately, the CRMA represents a pivotal step towards securing a sustainable and diverse supply of critical raw materials while navigating the complexities of energy transition and geopolitical challenges.

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