On the attempt to approve 13 licencing projects at once at COPAM-MG 

By Gabriela Sarmet, co-founder of the Coletivo Decolonial, a researcher on socio-environmental conflicts in Latin America and an individual associate member of London Mining Network

Artwork created by Flávio Duarte for the 25 January 2021 second anniversary of the Brumadinho tailings dam collapse
in Minas Gerais state, Brazil

On Friday, 26 March, at the beginning of the 72nd meeting of the Chamber of Mining Activities (CMI) of the Minas Gerais (MG) State Council of Environmental Policy (COPAM), councillor Bruno Bernardes, representing the Association for Environmental Protection of the Mutuca Valley (Promutuca), asked to speak. He denounced the unexpected inclusion of 10 new licensing processes in the agenda to be analysed by this council. He stressed that all are processes that require attention and careful analysis since most of them have dozens of pages. This excessive agenda makes it impossible for civil society to act in this Chamber. Even though they have a month to analyse the documentation – in cases of requests for examination – it is still difficult to analyse the processes in time and with due attention. 

Councillor Valter Vilela (ABES – Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering) also expressed enormous discomfort at receiving this excessive agenda with 13 requests. He said:

“We had 9 (nine) days to study all the processes, which gives a ratio of one process per day. We all have other activities, and even if we did not, it is humanly impossible to do a more thorough analysis in this time frame. My point is to have more palatable agendas, so we can do more careful analysis.”

In response, the councillor Carlos Eduardo Orsini, former president of COPAM and current representative of the Sociedade Mineira de Engenheiros (SME) spoke in defence of mining as a “mainstay” for development in the state of MG. “The economy of Minas Gerais cannot wait. The Minas Gerais economy is in a hurry to make up for the lost time”. In another speech in support of mining, the importance of the activity for the “sustainable development” of the state of Minas Gerais was highlighted. He also said that we could not get caught up in the environmental dimension, but rather remember that there are two other pillars of development, which are social and economic. It was even implied that the NGO representatives were persecuting those who defended the economic aspect. “We are talking about sustainability, about development, we are talking about quality of life – which is to avoid poverty and misery, so that people can work.”, said the councillor in support of the licenses for mining operations.

As soon as it was opened to those registered to speak, the environmentalist Maria Teresa Corujo (Teca) asked for the floor and pointed out: 

“We are all witnesses of what putting mining ahead of the Minas Gerais economy has been causing. We lost the Rio Doce. We have a very serious water security situation in the metropolitan region because of the Brumadinho dam collapse. We have thousands of people suffering because of mining. So putting mining ahead of the economy and the State is completely contradictory to reality itself.”

After reading the note issued by the Brazilian Anthropology Association (ABA) and its Committee on Traditional Peoples, the Environment and Large Projects, the CMI president, Yuri Trovão, said that the body did not agree with the note. He said that these and any other process that is being judged in COPAM’s agenda has the support of the competent bodies to ensure respect for the regulations related to them. “We do listen to the communities, there is the legal provision and the processes are informed by the relevant documents,” he said in response to ABA’s letter.

Soon after, another ABA member asked to speak, Ana Flavia Moreira Santos, who has worked for over 20 years monitoring environmental licensing processes in Minas Gerais. She emphasized the widespread concern with the time compression of the environmental licensing process. According to her, this excessive agenda represents, in fact, nothing more than the culmination of practices that have already been taken by the CMI. She stated that these practices have been compressing, transforming and emptying the environmental licensing of what is most important: a substantive discussion of the diagnosed problems. “The increasing emptying of discussions held in these meetings is extremely worrying”, said the anthropologist.

In addition, she openly disagreed with the CMI president, saying that there are numerous cases of traditional communities suffering serious violations of rights whose voices and ways of life are not even recognized. There is a poor quality of the studies carried out and also poor quality of the monitoring of these licenses. There is a lack of substantive assessment of damages and risks, according to her evaluation. She mentioned the Minas Rio project operated by Anglo American as an example, which she has been monitoring for 8 years. There are communities around this project whose ways of life have been made completely unviable, and to date, more than 10 years after the licensing, nothing has been done to effectively address the dramatic situation of these communities. She echoed other researchers stating that what occurs in these areas trapped in mining are not “natural disasters”, but socio-technical disasters. This stems from the flexibilisation of the legislation, something we have seen in recent years and also from processes that place notarial efficiency above fundamental principles for the environment and local populations, those of precaution, prevention and reasonableness. 

On the final decisions of this meeting, 11 of the 13 requests were not approved, since these were subject to demands for re-examination of the documentation. For some, an analysis of the conditions was requested, and in all of them, the need was raised for seeking the views of civil society. The Brazilian subsidiary of the British mining company Anglo American, called Anglo American Minério de Ferro Brasil S.A., requested to examine the Operating License for the extension of the Sapo Mine but the councillors requested views on documentation and from civil society. The 2 processes that were approved were on the agenda of the 71st COMAG meeting, and on this occasion, they were approved with conditions, as the need to undertake the EIA/RIMA – Environmental Impact Study (EIA) and Environmental Impact Report (RIMA) – to characterise the site. One of them was that of the mining company Vale S.A. in the Mariana Complex – Mina de Alegria/Fábrica Nova. The opening of an administrative process was granted – with conditions – for examination of the Corrective Installation License concomitant with the Operation License. 

Votes for the mining licensing processes approved with conditions:

This meeting has revealed how the productivist fallacy of a “path towards development”  through exploratory extractivism continues to be reproduced in Brazil. Nature keeps being seen as a resource/asset, reduced to mere human property; and any other reading is placed in the field of irrationality and denial of progress. There is no recognition of value in diversity, in the plurality of existences, subjectivities, in the multiple ways of living and being in the world. It is as if there was no way out, except to accept the multiple forms of violence and the violations resulting from mining. However, as well declared by many civil society representatives in this meeting, we have been witnessing that behind these empty promises of “progress” and “development”, we are being left only with trails of destruction.


Translation by Gabriela Sarmet of an article published on 24 March 2021 on the Minas Gerais Federal University (UFMG) website “Portal Manuelzão” – link in PTBR.

In the midst of the purple wave in Minas Gerais, the exorbitant number of licenses granted in a meeting of the State Environmental Policy Council (Copam) provoked the sending of a representation to the Public Ministry, warning about the attitude of the environmental agency

The 72nd Regular Meeting of the Chamber of Mining Activities (CMI) of the State Council of Environmental Policy (Copam) is scheduled for next Friday, March 26, at 9 am. But a curious fact, to say the least, calls attention to this meeting: there are currently 13 licensing processes on the discussion agenda, including some related to large mining complexes. CMI and Copam are subordinated to the State Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development (Semad).

Among the licensing projects to be discussed are Vale’s Mariana Complex, which involves Alegria Mine and Fábrica Nova, in Mariana and Ouro Preto; the extension project for Sapo Mine, of Anglo American, in Conceição do Mato Dentro and Alvorada de Minas; and those for Cuiabá Mine and Córrego do Sítio, of AngloGold Ashanti, in Sabará and Caeté, respectively. Environmental licensing is the main technical and legal instrument used to prevent damages caused by large impact undertakings, as is the case of mining.

It is worth remembering that the last two projects mentioned above, by Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti, are the object of a public civil lawsuit (ACP) filed by the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais (MPMG), regarding licences previously granted for the tailings dams of these complexes.

“An agenda with two licences is unacceptable, even more so with 13”, says lawyer and environmentalist Letícia Camarano. “Such a complex, delicate, highly technical process, involving several lives and the environment, could never be analysed in such an accelerated manner”.

Attentive to the proceedings at CMI, environmentalist Maria Teresa Corujo sent a representation to the MPMG regarding next Friday’s meeting. The representation is the act of bringing to the attention of the MP an unlawful fact or irregularity that enables the adoption of measures.

For her, as has been recurring, even in times of pandemic, an extraordinary meeting will probably be called for mid-April, to decide on the projects, making it impossible to properly analyse each of these licensing processes on the agenda, some of them with thousands of documents.

Former councillor of CMI, Maria Teresa has conducted an analysis that is inserted in the opinions of view of the NGO ProMutuca, which has representation in CMI and assumed the commitment with civil society to always ask for view (more time for analysis) of the processes that enter the agenda, to enable better knowledge of the projects and manifestations of society about it.

“In the midst of the purple wave, with the chaotic situation in public health and the population frightened, how will stakeholders from all the municipalities in these licensing processes be able to monitor, participate and learn about each of these licensing processes, some of them with thousands of documents?

The MPMG has already filed a public civil lawsuit over the CMI and other technical chambers of Copam. The action, however, seems to have had no effect on Semad’s posture in the accelerated conduction of licensing and the disastrous effects generated to Minas Gerais.


“In the representation, I affirm to the MPMG that what I have been witnessing, from the analyses of the single opinions, has exceeded a limit that I never imagined would be exceeded and without a doubt, we will all be witnesses to many more human and environmental tragedies (including beyond those caused to date by irresponsibility with tailings dams),” Maria Tereza warns.

“The permanent anguish I carry in my chest, associated with the knowledge I have, was the reason for writing this representation because it is urgent to find a way to stop what we call the ‘mining licensing office’,” she adds.

She refers to the fact that about 90% of the decisions of the people who occupy the positions of councillors in the seats assigned to the State Government and private initiative in the CMI, are always jointly and invariably in favour of mining, regardless of the impact caused by their new ventures. The information was ascertained by the Lei.A environmental law observatory. (link in PTBR)

Maria Tereza also recalled in the document that, in the previous management of the MPMG, in the sphere of the public prosecutors and environmental defence, there was no action in monitoring the agendas and deliberations of the CMI, except when it was demanded. She requested a review of this institutional posture of the body.

The environmentalist also made a request to councillor Bruno Elias Bernardes, current representative of the NGO ProMutuca in CMI, to ask for views of the 10 licensing processes scheduled for the first time. The others are return three, which will be discussed after the request for views on the previous meeting.

For lawyer Leticia Camarano, it is essential to strengthening the review process. For her, this does not mean to make the processes bureaucratic, even because bureaucracy has never necessarily guaranteed quality, but to make them technically and morally apt, within the democratic rule of law, which also guarantees life the status of the highest right in our society.

“I realise and can state that there is a flaw in the genetics of most projects, from their inception, with irregularities, not necessarily pro forma, but of a much broader nature, which undoubtedly violates our idea of law and ample dignity,” Camarano reflects.


Environmental licensing is the main technical and legal instrument used to prevent disasters and tragedies caused by large enterprises, such as mining. Due to the enormous impact of the activity, a series of authorizations, technical reports, environmental impact studies, projects for monitoring areas that may suffer immediate damage, among other documents, are required.

In Minas Gerais, depending on the size and location of the project, this process is classified and conducted by the State System of Environment and Water Resources (Sisema), which brings together all the environmental agencies linked to the executive branch. These bodies, among them the Environmental Policies Council (Copam), establish criteria and conduct environmental licensing in the state.

At Copam, the licensing requests are distributed among seven thematic chambers, the so-called specialized technical chambers. These chambers discuss the implementation of the projects presented and vote for or against the granting of the license. Their meetings are monthly and open to the public.

One of them is the Chamber of Mining Activities (CMI), responsible for deciding on the environmental feasibility of projects assessed as causing significant impact. There, the mining environmental licensing processes are discussed and voted on based on a single opinion (technical and legal), prepared by technicians from the regional Environmental Superintendencies (Suprams) and the Superintendency of Priority Projects (Suppri).

[With information from the representation sent to the MPMG and the Lei.A environmental law observatory]