Spain and Portugal import many more tonnes than they export. Oil, gas, phosphates and other commodities are imported, and their socio-environmental effects are “externalized” particularly to Africa. However, internally there are also old and new conflicts on fossil fuel extraction and land-grabbing; waste disposal burning in cement factories, landfills and incinerators; public works, copper mining, tourism infrastructures. We focus mainly on transboundary conflicts - several large rivers from Spain reach the ocean in Portugal, there are important conflicts with hydroelectric plants. Also with tree plantations for pulp and paper pulp, eucalyptus plantations and the risk of fires across the political border. There are common social movements against nuclear power and against the new mining (lithium etc) for the electrical transition. The death of Gladys del Estal in an anti-nuclear march in Tudela or opposition to a CAFO in Novierca appear in other chapters.


After three thematic chapters (on working-class, agrarian and religious participants in environmental conflict), we continue with two geographical chapters: the Iberian Peninsula and the USA.

In 2022, the Atlas of Environmental Justice counts 3,800 ecological distribution conflicts registered and described in different parts of the world. The country with the highest number of registered cases is India, with 350 conflicts. It is followed by Brazil, the United States and China. Spain and Portugal are (counted together) in tenth place with 97 cases for Spain and 18 for Portugal, both somewhat over-represented in relation to their population due to the relative ease of contact we have.

The physical balance of trade is very favourable to the Iberian countries ‒ as the rest of Europe, Spain and Portugal import many more tonnes than they export. Oil, gas, phosphates and many other commodities are imported, and their socio-environmental effects are “externalized” to other countries, particularly to Africa. However, internally there are also old and new mining conflicts and some fossil fuel extraction and land-grabbing conflicts. Those related to waste disposal, public works, tourism infrastructures and nuclear power plants predominate in comparison to others, though there are also important conflicts with hydroelectric plants and eucalyptus plantations.

The nuclear energy problem is once again on the rise throughout Europe 40 years after the conflicts over their construction since the risk of accidents in these NPP is increasing, although the economic interests of the companies do not allow their definitive closure. This is the case of Garoña (which is now closed) and also of the Almaraz NPP in Extremadura. One of the main themes of this chapter is transboundary conflicts, not because they are unique to the Iberian Peninsula but because they deserve a special mention and analysis as a category of environmental conflicts. For instance, the main rivers in Spain (except for the Ebro River) go to the Atlantic and, therefore, to Portugal before reaching the sea. Dams, siphoning off water and polluting rivers in Spain affect Portugal, as was exemplified in 2017, when Portugal filed a formal complaint with Brussels over Spain's plans to use the increasingly scarce water flow in the Tagus River for nuclear waste treatment. 1 A transboundary issue that revived in 2022 because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the stopped MidCat gas pipeline that would link Catalonia with France, allowing an Algerian gas flow into Europe.

The registered cases in the EJAtlas are shown in Figure 23.1, of which we take a sample in this chapter. Other “transversal” chapters in this book (for instance on WED killed and on agrarian conflicts) contain Spanish cases such as the death of Gladys del Estal in Tudela in an anti-nuclear march or opposition to a CAFO in Novierca.p. 508 p. 509

The Iberian Peninsula, conflicts in Spain and Portugal (A.Grimaldos).
Figure 23.1

The Iberian Peninsula, conflicts in Spain and Portugal

Source:  A.Grimaldos

Sometimes, as I am Catalan, I am asked why we have not included more cases from Catalonia. New conflicts arise all the time, for instance, in 2021 on the expansion of the Barcelona airport, where environmentalists (with support from the global Stay Grounded network) argue in terms of climate change, local biodiversity and avoidance of noise. To the alleged under-representation, I answer that there is one person in Catalonia for approximately every thousand in the world. The EJAtlas is a good sample of socio-ecological conflicts around the world but biased towards some world regions. For Catalonia it has two cases per million, while the world has only 0.5 cases per million inhabitants. It would be easy to add other cases by consensus among environmental groups (air pollution in the city of Barcelona, urban planning in the Costa Brava), and collect the 30 most relevant environmental conflicts in Catalonia, reaching four relevant conflicts per million inhabitants. Somebody should then write a book.

The registered cases in Catalonia are as follows:

  • GM maize – in Lleida and Aragon

  • Vall Fosca (tourism), Pyrenees

  • Salvem Salau, transborder mining conflict, Pyrenees

  • Cercs, first a coal power plant, now a waste incinerator

  • MAT, high voltage electric line from France

  • Pork industry

  • Potassium mining, Llobregat River

  • Bullfighting

  • Ateneu 9 Barris, Barcelona (asphalt factory)

  • Montcada i Reixac, waste burning at Lafarge cement factory

  • MIDCAT, gas pipeline to France

  • Flix, industrial pollution Ercros

  • Ebro River water transfer

  • Ascó and Vandellós nuclear power plants

  • Asbestos plant, Cerdanyola del Vallès

  • Petrochemical complex in Tarragona

  • Quarries overexploitation in the Baix Camp (Tarragona)


The chapter starts with conflicts on eucalyptus fires and cellulose manufacturing. The title of this section comes from an article in La Voz de Galicia (15 April 2018) by Adolfo Cordero on the eucalyptus trees as an invasive species taking water and fertility from the soil.

Despite being the wettest region in Spain, Galicia has turned into a wildfire hotspot in recent years; nearly 40% of fires in the country between 2001 and 2015 broke out here. Experts have pointed to the increased presence of eucalyptus as one of the causes. The area covered by eucalyptus jumped from 28,000 ha in 1973 to more than 300,000 ha in 2018.

It does not matter so much that eucalyptus are “exotic” (from Australia), the problem is about the properties they have. “Eucalyptus trees are like the state” because they take everything p. 510away and give nothing in return. The phrase comes from an anthropologist, A. Tegbaru, who heard it from a peasant in Thailand. Larry Lohmann quoted it and I included it in my book The Environmentalism of the Poor. This is where Adolfo Cordero found it.

Similar commodities, somewhat similar reactions in very distant countries. In Portugal and Spain, the “plague” of the eucalyptus trees is furthered by the pulp and paper industry. Eucalyptus conflicts are present in the Featured Map composed of the Portuguese cases in the EJAtlas 3 due to Lúcia de Oliveira Fernandes and her colleagues. One of the entries has the title “Celtejo's SLAPP against Arlindo Marques”.

Celulose do Tejo, S.A. started a SLAPP against Arlindo Marquês, an activist. This is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”. The 90-page indictment contains items from social media, news and interviews that Celtejo considers defamatory. The intimidation tried to curtail the constitutional right that citizens have to freely express their opinion and the duty that all citizens have to defend the environment, according to Article 66 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic. Speaking on 22 December 2017 to Radio Portalegre, Arlindo Marquês, an active member of the proTejo movement, said he had highlighted the “pollution of the Tagus as an act of citizenship”. This prison guard turned environmentalist, known locally as ‘the Guardian of the Tejo’, accused Celtejo's management of trying to silence him with its defamation case. Arlindo Marquês said he would continue to denounce pollution in the river Tagus, arguing that Celtejo should compensate those families who had their livelihood taken away by a polluting company in the Vila Velha de Ródão area.

In November 2017, Marquês said, “We all know that the culprit is the pulp mill”, referring to the effluents from Celtejo, which produces Bleached Eucalyptus Kraft Pulp (BEKP) for paper production. Portugal's Animals and Nature political party, PAN, had already filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office for Celtejo's pollution in the Tagus River after municipal councils complained that the situation was utterly appalling. Celtejo and other factories polluting the river are committing environmental crimes every time they flush the waste. PAN also accused the Ministry of the Environment of indifference. By 2020, the guardião do Tejo had won the dispute, and the company withdrew the lawsuit against him. He continues the struggle against pollution and for a legal minimum flow in the river (retained by Spanish dams) allowing the fish to live and reproduce.


With over 800,000 ha covering a quarter of Portugal's forest area and 9 per cent of its territory, Portugal is the country with the largest area planted in eucalyptus in Europe and ranks fifth worldwide. This process began during the fascist regime of 1933‒74. At that time, 7,638 communal land parcels (baldios) that together totalled 408,000 ha and guaranteed the traditional rights of the commoners (such as grazing and collecting firewood and fuel) came to be managed by the state Forest Services, which implemented the state's afforestation policies.

After the 1974 revolution, the commoners and the state jointly managed communal lands. Even so, the commoners’ assembly and municipal councils did not have a say in the regulations that would soon be adopted on tree planting. This situation arose because most communities did not have the technical skills necessary to manage the forested lands and their communal structures had been severely weakened during the years of dictatorship.p. 511

In the 1980s, three key processes occurred simultaneously. First, the Forest Service underwent a series of reforms claiming capacity to manage the forest lands. Second, some of the private pulp and paper companies were nationalized and consolidated as one group called Portucel. Third, many commoners delegated local management to the parishes (municipal authorities), thereby abdicating their direct control of the land. The pulp and paper industry and their eucalyptus suppliers were the ones to benefit the most from this situation. Already in 1990, 35 per cent of the area planted in eucalyptus was owned by pulp and paper corporations and 65 per cent by private owners and commoners who had signed long-term rental contracts.

In 1989, hundreds of farmers met in Armada (Ponte de Lima) to protest against the parish's decision to rent their common lands to Portucel for a 29-year period. That same year, in Valpaços, the olive oil-producing region of Trás-os-Montes, farmers rebelled against the eucalyptus plantations replacing the olive trees. Over 2,000 people ‒ mainly the local population of four parishes together with some ecologists ‒ engaged in direct action and managed to pull out 3,000 eucalyptus seedlings. The police reacted strongly and attacked the protesters. Later on, in 1995, the “Federação Nacional dos Baldios” (National Federation of Common Lands) was created to support the movement of the commoners. Then, in January 2012, the “Plataforma pela Floresta” was created, made up of environmental groups, activists, intellectuals, and scientists from all around the country (Figure 23.2).

Portugal, campaign against eucalyptus (Quercus and EJAtlas).
Figure 23.2

Portugal, campaign against eucalyptus

Source:  Quercus and EJAtlas

In September 2014, the Portuguese government announced a change to Law no. 68/93, which regulates the management of communally owned uncultivated lands. The purpose of Law no. p. 51272/2014 was to facilitate the entry of external agents and promote a rental economy on the common lands. It penalizes local communities for the lack of management of the lands by extinguishing the common lands and integrating them into the property of parishes and municipalities. This scenario was aggravated by the new legal regime (Law no. 96/2013) that permits unlimited plantations of any kind of tree species in plots of less than two hectares. This proposal gave rise to protests in which 5,000 people ‒ mostly farmers ‒ gathered in front of the parliament in Lisbon to defend the commoners’ right to remain the legitimate owners of the baldios.

On 17 June 2017, the forest fire that ended with the highest number of victims (64 dead and 254 injured) and caused the most damage (more than 500 houses) in the history of Portugal raged through the country. It began in the Pedrógão Grande parish (Leiria district) and spread to the neighbouring parishes. On 15 October 2017, fires broke out again in the centre and the north of the country destroying numerous houses and industrial buildings, cutting off access to several roads and causing 45 deaths.

In 2017, the Council of Ministers of Portugal had approved reforms to the forestry code. The reform proposes a new afforestation regime, the attribution of new powers and a greater capacity to intervene in municipalities, and the creation of a Land Bank. In November 2017, the Government approved a new regime that prohibits eucalyptus trees from being planted in burned areas previously occupied by native species in order to preserve biodiversity. A new awareness of the damage from eucalyptus monoculture had perhaps arrived, too little and too late. In 2022 again, forest fires (not only of eucalyptus, but also of other species) furthered by heat waves from global climate change, raged in Portugal and Spain across the border in Ourense, Zamora and Cáceres.


The Pontevedra River in Galicia hosts several very polluting industries which have dumped their waste into the river for many years. These industries are ENCE, a pulp mill and biomass energy producer since 1963, and ELNOSA, a chemical company which produces chlorine-derivatives. In 2002, the ENCE company recognized that its production was polluting the river. Six managers were sentenced to prison, and a fine of €433,000 was imposed for breaching the law on waste dumping, as reported by El Pais (15/06/2011). It appears that the sentence was never enforced and the fine was never paid.

These companies were supposed to leave the estuary by 2018. The Spanish government, however, extended the permission to stay for 75 additional years, further affecting the shellfish collectors. Currently, it is alleged that the shellfish caught by the river has a label C category. While the ENCE company claims that significant environmental improvements have been undertaken in its installations, opposition to this company and to ELNOSA continued for many years. Several organizations, grouped under the umbrella of the Asociación por la Defensa de la Ría de Pontevedra (APDR) have been trying to stop the pollution and to recover the affected areas, launching campaigns against the companies; they brought the companies before the Courts of Justice (and won) and they organized multiple demonstrations against the decision of extending the permission beyond 2018.

On 24 November 2013, about a thousand people demonstrated in Pontevedra against the decision of extending the permission to be in the Ria de Pontevedra. As La Voz de Pontevedra (24/11/2013) newspaper reported:p. 513

The official statement of the mobilization […] was read by the writer Carlos Solla, who made an ironic mention of the environmental and social consequences of the location of the Ence Elnosa industrial complex… He pointed out that this situation had marked a generation that he jokingly called os nenos do mercurio (“the children of mercury”) and made a plea for the departure of both industries from the immediate surroundings of the estuary.

The platform was formed by political parties, social and neighbourhood groups, as well as environmental groups.


Nuclear Power Station in Almaraz 6

The Almaraz nuclear power station on the Tagus River is getting old and dangerous. It is in the province of Cáceres (100 km from Vila Velha de Ródão). There are renewed protests both in Spain and Portugal.

In the 1970s the initial purpose in Spain was that of building two large nuclear power stations in Extremadura, much beyond the electricity needs for the region. One, Valdecaballeros, was stopped by a grassroots popular movement in the late 1970s with some support from elected politicians. The other, the Almaraz NPP began to be built in 1972 under Franco, when protests were difficult to organize. The first reactor started operating in 1981 and the second one in 1983.

According to Ecologistas en Acción, between 2007 and 2010 the resident or visiting inspectors had notified the CSN (Nuclear Security Council) of 75 incidents. It is a PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) with two reactors with approximately 1045 MWe each. The water in the small dam of Arrocampo is often too hot, with damage to biological systems. Now that the end of Almaraz's “lifespan” is approaching there is a renewed concern, which is taking the form of a transborder movement in Spain and Portugal, the Movimiento Ibérico Antinuclear. This movement is concerned also about potential transboundary hydropower conflicts. The Almaraz NNP is cooled with water from the Tagus River, which flows to Portugal's border and finally to Lisbon. This turns the problems of Almaraz into an international issue, since the operation of the plant affects the river, both in its normal operation and in a hypothetical accident.

The plant was marked by a long succession of incidents, unscheduled shutdowns or refuellings that allegedly affected essential elements of its safety. In addition, more than 4,000 design modifications were made during its lifetime, some of them major. This was argued in a report by Paco Castejón, of Ecologistas en Acción, one coordinator of the Movimiento Ibérico Antinuclear. Transfrontier protests with the slogan Fechar Almaraz. Descanse em paz, have taken place in Cáceres. This is a conflict waiting to grow, as the Spanish government keeps giving extra time to old and dangerous large nuclear power plants.

Retortillo Uranium Mining Near Spain-Portugal Border 7

Mine exploitation of uranium deposits and a project of construction of a factory of uranium concentrates in the Salamanca province was opposed by very active municipalities and two local EJOs. Salamanca has a long history of successful opposition to uranium mining, and p. 514this is the last episode for the moment. The ENUSA and the Berkeley Resources company had signed an agreement in December 2008 according to which Berkeley would report about the viability of the exploitation of uranium in the villages of Villavieja de Yeltes and Retortillo, near the frontier with Portugal. In October 2011, Berkeley signed an agreement of cooperation with both village councils about the mine exploitation and regarding a project of construction of a factory of uranium concentrates. Berkeley has deeply divided the local inhabitants’ opinions with the promise of offering local people between 100 and 200 jobs. On 25 September 2013, the Junta of Castilla y León accepted a favourable EIA to the uranium mining project. On 5 March 2014, the Nuclear Spanish Safety Council informed Berkeley that the company submitted an incomplete dossier because the waste was radioactive and must be treated as such, but finally, Berkeley obtained the authorization as first category radioactive installation, which implies the highest potential radiological risk.

Later, in April 2016, the Spanish National High Court admitted the administrative appeal against the authorization of the project as first category radioactive installation. The EJO “Stop Uranio” filed a complaint with the Salamanca Public Prosecutor Office, since Berkeley may have committed an environmental crime punished by the Spanish Criminal Code in the article 325 when logging some holm oaks illegally.

During the last years, the local residents of the towns encompassed in the county of Ciudad Rodrigo have been opposing the project of the uranium mine. They created an EJO called “Stop Uranio” and they are working with “Salamanca Antinuclear” and Ecologistas en Acción. They organized many open-air meetings and demonstrations and brought legal and judicial appeals against the Spanish and Castilla y Leon governments. Berkeley has allegedly been stalking some environmental activists, infringing on their fundamental rights to speak out and to inform.

One of the remarkable risks of this project was the negative effect it might have on the market price of local varieties of livestock: wild rage pigs or morucha meat. Moreover, cork holms and other types of oak may be affected. Finally, the project is located near the frontier of Portugal, which would affect some types of wildlife and natural habitats protected by European laws – Special Protection Areas for Birds (SPAB) and Site of Community Importance (SIC) – and would pollute the Douro River that supplies water to two million people as the Yeltes River that is a tributary of Huebra River, flows out to the Douro River.

On 12 July 2021, the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) issued a negative report on the request for a construction permit for the uranium mine project and the mineral processing plant that the Berkeley company was trying to open in Retortillo. With this pronouncement, the Ministry for Ecological Transition cannot grant authorization, since the CSN's opinion is binding. However, by December 2022 the vice-president of the regional government of Castile and Leon was still courting Berkeley's investment for US$ 80 million.


The Portuguese government launched a National Program of Hydroelectric Dams (PNBEPH) in 2007. The 12 new dams correspond to 4 per cent of electricity production in the country from all sources. As part of a national strategy for renewable energy, hydropower would combine with wind power, and the combination of pumped storage systems would play an important role in preventing wind power from being wasted during the night. Environmental p. 515organizations, academics, researchers, and civil society movements came together to protest against this plan. Their main criticisms were the disregard for public participation in the decision-making process and the lack of consideration of the cultural and environmental values of the sites to be flooded. These counter-movements were undoubtedly empowered by the successful fight against the Foz Côa dam, where local communities and protest movements stopped the construction of dams that would have endangered the country's cultural heritage. However, the fight against the Sabor dam did not succeed in halting the project. Home to a diversity of fauna and endangered species, it was the “last wild river” in Portugal. The coalition “Plataforma Sabor Livre” (Free the Sabor River Coalition) carried out protests, sent complaints to the European Commission and boycotted the biodiversity fund managed by Energias de Portugal (EDP), the concession holder. However, it was not enough to stop the construction, and the dam became operational in 2014.

The Douro and the Tejo Rivers come from Spain, as do other rivers. The construction of the Foz Tua dam in the Alto Douro wine region, recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO also faced strong opposition. Founded in 2013, the Platform “Salvar o Tua” (Save Tua River Coalition) received international attention. It filed various lawsuits against the project, organized information campaigns and created artistic and cultural projects to achieve greater visibility. In 2013, the coalition submitted to parliament a petition called “Manifesto for the Tua valley”. In 2015, this manifesto, which had more than 7,300 signatures, was discussed in parliament. Some of the signatories travelled to protest inside the plenary. In addition to these cases, there were also conflicts involving the Ribeiradio-Ermida dam on the Vouga River, and another four hydropower plants in Gouvães, Padroselos, Alto Tâmega and Daivões.

The broader movement challenged the claim that the dams were being built in the “national public interest”. NGOs and citizens’ groups mobilized against new mini-hydropower plants on the Mondego and Paiva Rivers and were able to stop them. The main reasons were the failure to comply with licensing and contract procedures, the failure to meet the requirements on a minimum water flow in the Paiva River, incompatibility of the fish ladders built in the Mondego River and the broader changes they would bring, including the expropriation of people's houses. In early 2016, the PNBEPH was revised downwards. Only four dams would be built. Authorities cancelled the Girabolhos and Alvito dam projects and postponed the decision on the construction of the Fridão dam for three years.

Preserving the so-called “minimum water flow” is an argument found in the last 20 years in a multitude of conflicts against hydropower in the EJAtlas, contrasting with the old-fashioned vision that water getting freely to the sea was wasted.


There are also numerous conflicts on dams and water transfers in Spain, some of them overlapping with the conflicts in Portugal. Here I shall include brief descriptions of only two well-known struggles in the upper part of the Ebro River, the Itoiz and the Yesa dams. The lower part of the Ebro River, apart from the opposition to water transfer and the defence of the Delta, houses also the conflict against the chemical industry in Flix and the nuclear power plants (2,000 MW) at Ascó.

The Itoiz dam is located in Navarra, on the Irati River in the Ebro basin. The cost was over €165 million, and the purpose was to give water to the city of Pamplona and irrigate 57,000 p. 516ha through the Canal de Navarra (177 km). Its capacity is 586 hm3. In 2002, it was filled after ten years of struggle to prevent it. In the eviction of the population there were 53 arrests. The Itoiz reservoir is part of the “National Hydrological Plan”, which has been strongly criticized both by the people and by infrastructure and environmental experts. It has been opposed by the organization Nueva Cultura del Agua. Locally, the group called “Solidari@s con Itoiz” (Solidarity with Itoiz) opposed it, as well as Greenpeace and other NGOs.

In 1995, a group of Solidari@s cut the cables of the dam, still under construction. The National High Court, in one of the many legal proceedings and appeals, declared the project null and illegal. Some of those arrested were sentenced to prison terms of up to 16 months. There has been much discussion about the geology and seismicity caused by the dam itself regarding its safety.

There was also a long fight against the dam at Yesa (Huesca, Aragon) with strong police repression in October 2012. The dam of Yesa was constructed in 1959. It displaced 1,400 persons and caused the abandonment of the villages of Tiermas, Ruesta and Escó. In 1985, the “regrowth” of the dam appeared as an issue. An additional 2,400 ha would be flooded, including the village of Sigüés and the best lands of Artieda and Mianos. There was strong local opposition. In May 2016, it was reported that in Saragossa a criminal court case had opened against the so-called Los 8 de Yesa; eight local people were charged with crimes of resistance to authority, public disorder and aggression to the police because of a protest in Artieda in 2012 against the “regrowth” of the dam. One of the young people charged was Jorge Luis Bail, later member of the Spanish Parliament from Podemos.


These are cases in Portugal similar to those in Spain in Montcada i Reixac (Catalonia), Cordoba (Andalusia), Toral de los Vados (León) and Morata de Tajuña (Madrid). Air pollution and high rates of cancer are allegedly found around cement plants burning waste for powering the industry as we saw in Cemex factories in Mexico, and as we shall see from the success of Uroš Macerl who got a Goldman Prize in 2017 for stopping this practice in a Lafarge factory in Slovenia (Chapter 28).

In 1986, shortly after joining the European Union, Portugal chose to adopt co-incineration technology in accordance with Directive 94/67/CE. In 1996, it created the Institute for Waste and began to define the strategy for industrial (hazardous and non-hazardous) urban waste. The priority was to “add value” to industrial waste by using it as fuel or raw materials. Therefore, burning the waste in cement kilns became a “perfect solution”: it meant using less fuel for cement production and misguidedly allowing for the reuse of dangerous waste.

In 1996, two national cement companies, Secil and Cimpor, in association with French-based Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, created a consortium named Scoreco. In July 1997, Scoreco conducted a study on the types of waste that could be burnt in cement kilns. Protests took place between 1997 and 2000 in Maceira and between 1998 and 2002 in Souselas because of the air pollution. A study in Souselas reportedly shows an incidence of tumours and respiratory diseases in members of the local community. In 1998, a coalition of EJOs and local institutions in Coimbra called the Committee for the Struggle against Co-incineration (Comissão de Luta contra a Coincineração) was created. They prepared scientific arguments to justify p. 517the demand for an epidemiological study, obtaining 50,000 signatures for a petition for the suspension of the project, organizing street demonstrations and coordinating efforts with Greenpeace and local institutions. In 1999, the government created an independent scientific commission to analyze the process. In 2000, it changed the location of the plant from Maceira to Outão. Protests in the new location continued for two years. The choice of location was controversial, as it is inside the Arrábida Nature Park. In December 2001, the newly elected government cancelled the co-incineration plan and began to develop a new strategy for waste management. Later, waste was still burned in the cement kilns of Maceira and Outão (owned by Secil) and Alhandra (owned by Cimpor), but no further conflicts have developed.

Waste Incineration Fuelled Cement Plant in Morata de Tajuña, Madrid 11

This big cement company reduces production costs by burning cheap urban waste. The city council ordered an air quality study. The cement plant Portland in Morata de Tajuña is the biggest in Spain and one of the biggest in Europe, at about 35 km to the south of Madrid not far from the domestic waste incinerator of Valdemingomez. In late 2012, possibly as a result of cost-saving measures due to the steep decline in cement production in Spain since 2008, the company asked permission to change or supplement the fuel they were using from petroleum coke to different sorts of waste (tyres, plastic materials, meat and bone meals, sewage sludge and domestic waste). The company got permission to use co-incineration.

Opposition appeared against this project at local and regional scale, defining it as an environmental justice conflict. As reported in the newspaper El País (21 May 2013):

The plant already burns wood pulp but is waiting for the government to authorize the partial substitution of fossil fuel by waste, such as sewage sludge and tyres that would otherwise end up in the landfill. However, the neighbours are opposed and claim that the burning of waste in incinerators puts their health at risk.

The concern of these groups was the potential consequences for human health and the environment related to the uncertain risk of toxic emissions. Several petitions and street protests were organized; these groups were also coordinated with other national and international groups working against waste incineration.

The Diagonal journal reported in June 2013 this statement from Lorenzo Mora, president of the Asociación de Vecinos de Morata de Tajuña (Residents’ Association): “We, the residents of this municipality, oppose this incinerator and the burning of this waste because it will have very severe effects on our health”. Although the company assured all measures had been taken, data produced by the municipality talked about an increase in dioxins, furan and heavy metals. Nevertheless, the permits were granted by the environmental authorities. The cement factory itself (belonging to the FCC company) was reported to be in a financially precarious situation at the time. Here, we have a case in which an environmental conflict does not arise from an increase in the social metabolism of the economy, but, on the contrary, a lack of demand for cement is leading to cost-saving measures.

In 2014, it was announced that the Spanish Platform against Co-Incineration of Waste in Cement Factories would have its fifth meeting on 8 March. For environmentalists such as Ecologistas en Acción, burning waste for fuel is not a good idea. They claim that producing less waste and recycling it is preferable, as it saves more energy than is riskily produced by burning the waste.p. 518

There is nothing specifically Iberian in the growth of waste disposal conflicts (among which we should include the excessive amount of carbon dioxide emissions and other GHG). For instance, there have been numerous conflicts on incineration of urban waste in China, as also conflicts on the export of waste from the North to the South. Industrial waste is generated in much larger quantities than domestic waste.

Zaldibar Dumpsite (Basque Country) 12

On 6 February 2020 at 4:40 p.m. the technical director of Verter Recycling telephoned the Basque Government's Department of the Environment to report that the landfill in Zaldibar (Vizcaya) had collapsed. The landfill collapsed along 300 m of slope, with a width of 150 m, until it came to a halt over the three lanes of the highway linking Bilbao to San Sebastian. Four months later, the huge tongue of industrial waste still trapped the bodies of the worker Alberto Solaluze and the subcontracted technician Joaquín Beltrán. A human and environmental catastrophe that, according to El Mundo on 6 June 2020, dragged on because the excavators only managed to sift 8 per cent of the total collapse and the investigation of causes was judicially postponed while the Basque Government pointed the finger at the company and was angry with the inspections by the European Union.

The private facility located on a hill next to Ermua generated tax revenues of half a million euros a year and provided cheap “management” of tons of steel and paper mill waste. The landfill accumulated materials with 4,200 tons of asbestos within the 511,000 tons of waste received in 2019. As Econoticias (5 March 2020) pointed out, the figures are eloquent. The Zaldibar landfill had an authorized capacity for a useful life of 35 years. This translates into an average of some 118,000 tons of waste per year. However, over the last two years, more than one million tons of waste were dumped, vastly exceeding the authorization granted by the Basque Government.

The very rapid pace at which the landfill was being used and its location on the side of a hill were causes of the environmental catastrophe of February 2020. They prevented the landfill from being properly compacted and its stability from being guaranteed. But to this must be added the diversity of industrial and construction waste accumulated, which generated a serious problem without an easy solution. The organic matter, coming from industries such as pulp and paper, produced methane gas by anaerobic fermentation. Fires appeared in the landfill, making visible the chemical processes taking place inside it. These reactions generate combustion of materials producing toxic and carcinogenic substances. The levels in the area's atmosphere reached 50 times higher than usual as they were emitted along with the rest of the combustion gasses.

The Spanish economy generated 131.1 million tons of solid waste in 2017, 2.3 per cent more than in the previous year. Of that amount, most of it (57.9 per cent) came from industry and construction, and 53.9 per cent of it went to landfills, according to data from the INE (National Statistics Institute). Thus, a company such as Verter Recycling 2002, operating the Zaldibar landfill, obtained spectacular economic results associated with a dizzying rate of filling up the landfill and accepting almost any type of waste. It obtained the Integrated Environmental Authorization from the Basque Government in 2007, which was renewed in 2013 with the modification that allowed the inclusion of waste containing asbestos.

Almost 2.8 million tons were stored by this company belonging to a family clan ‒ headed by José Ignacio Barinaga ‒ with only six workers on staff and which had subcontracted Joaquín Beltrán to manage the continuous arrival of industrial waste. Since the afternoon of 6 February, the Basque Executive assumed the emergency work first and the search and p. 519stabilization of the landslide, later. The catastrophe mobilized many of the 60,000 neighbours living in the municipalities of Ermua, Eibar, Elgeta, Zalla, Markina and Zaldibar who, grouped in the Zaldibar Argitu platform, repeatedly demanded not only the unearthing of the corpses of the buried workers but also political responsibility from the Basque Government for the lack of control of the landfill (Figure 23.3). The Basque Government budgeted an expenditure of €9 million to meet the costs incurred in the first four months, and on 5 June it issued a first invoice for €3.4 million to the company Verter Recycling. José Ignacio Barinaga's company is facing two alleged offences in court and three administrative proceedings opened by the Basque Government and the Biscay Provincial Council as a result of the collapse that occurred two days after its workers detected cracks in the landfill mass. The European Union was also willing to investigate and probably to fine.

Zaldibar: working conditions, health, liabilities (Gara).
Figure 23.3

Zaldibar: working conditions, health, liabilities

Source:  Gara

Son Reus (Mallorca) 13

The incinerator of Son Reus in Mallorca is classified as an incinerator with “energy recovery”. It was built in 1992 by the private company TIRME (shareholders Urbaser, Iberdrola, FCC and ENEL), which was given the right to waste treatment in Mallorca by the island's government until 2041. The incinerator started to operate in 1997 and had an initial capacity of 300,000 tons per year. In 2007, this capacity was extended to 730,000 tons per year, but p. 520there is not enough waste on the island to make it work at full capacity. The economics of overcapacity dictate that if not enough waste is sent to incineration to pay off the investments, incineration fees must increase unless there is imported waste for incineration.

The Son Reus incinerator burns 84 per cent of all municipal waste generated on the island (recyclables and compostables too). Therefore, the efforts of several “zero waste” municipalities (15 per cent of Mallorca's population), which reached a recycling quota of more than 75 per cent of the total waste are basically useless. The island's incinerated waste generates over 100,000 tons of ash and dregs, causing serious environmental impact and a public health issue. Nevertheless, future EU politics may change the situation: The Resource Efficiency Roadmap established that no waste that can be recycled or composted should be incinerated by 2020. This may create higher prices for residual waste on the island or pressure to import waste.

Several EJOs have been fighting against incineration, including GAIA (Global Alliance on Incinerator Alternatives), GOB (Grup Balear d’Ornitologia), Amics de la Terra, Greenpeace and Zero Waste movement. Greenpeace asked Mallorca's council for a new waste management plan that includes a date to close the Son Reus incinerator and highlights reduction, reuse and recycling. The Zero Waste movement asked the European Commission to intervene to cap the incineration overcapacity. The current legislation gives all incentives to do the wrong thing and Mallorca is a clear example of it. Despite several actions of resistance, a shutdown or downgrading of the incinerator has not been achieved yet.


There are many examples of conflicts in the Iberian Peninsula on damage from the sand and gravel extractive industries, the cement industry, the construction of motorways and the AVE (the high-speed trains), airports and also ports, so it is difficult to decide where to begin. I have selected two cases, the expansion of the port in València in a rich agricultural area, and the Hotel Algarrobico in Andalusia.

La Punta, València 14

The city of València is located in an area of fertile land (called l’Horta de València, meaning València's orchard). Since the 1960s, all types of urban development have taken place at the expense of l’Horta. La Punta is one of València's districts, located south of the city. In the 1990s, this was the largest agricultural land remaining near the city of València. This district was very peculiar; there were no stores, and no streets, the old rural roads were still the main connections between the houses. There were 22 so-called barracas, the traditional Valèncian farmhouses, and it was an area adjacent to the Albufera Natural Park. The majority of the population was older, their lives intimately linked to horticulture.

In 1993, there was a new urban development plan for València called ZAL (Logistics Activities Zone), promoted by the Ministry of Public Works, the regional government, the València City Council and the Port of València. This plan changed the status of 75 ha of fertile Valèncian land from untouched green belts to land for building The project involved the destruction of over 100 farmhouses and the eviction of over 200 families. From that moment on, the neighbours decided to organize themselves for the defence of l’Horta p. 521against urban sprawl and investments in “logistics”. Many sectors of Valèncian society joined the active resistance to prevent evictions, while there were also legal petitions and large demonstrations against this urban plan. In 2009, the High Court of Justice certified that the Plan was illegal. In 2013, the Supreme Court of Justice ratified the previous judgment of the High Court of Justice in which the Plan was declared null and void. However, justice was too late in this case. The 75 ha of fertile land were already destroyed, all traditional farms in the area were demolished, and families were displaced. The port expansion never happened, either. By 2021 another conflict appeared on the expansion of the port in the northern part of the city.

Between 2017‒20, the conflict was reactivated in La Punta. For the third time, the Autonomous Government of València initiated a procedure for further “development” with a Special Plan for the ZAL. The “Plataforma per L’Horta” responded with a manifesto calling for a process of citizen participation to decide what future was to be given to the land of La Punta. The money already invested couldn’t be taken as an excuse and demanded the reparation of the injustice carried out, insisting on another way of doing territorial policies.

The public sector considers that La Punta is urban land and that they have executed the urbanization works. On the other hand, the citizen Platform considers that urbanization was not carried out legally because the lands of La Punta are currently categorized “Undeveloped Land of Special Agricultural Protection AG-1”. Moreover, decisions should be subject to a public participatory process taking into account several proposals on the table from recognized professional urban planners, biologists, ecologists and representatives of civil society organizations. This conflict, in synthesis, confronts two models of development. One is an expansive conurbation with environmental problems, and the other rescues proposals deeply rooted among the population, including elements of restorative justice. A lot of the damage has been done and cannot be now amended, although by April 2022, there was a new High Court decision agreeing with the opposition to the ZAL (Figure 23.4).

Demonstration against the ZAL in La Punta, Valencia (Per l’Horta, 30/09/2017).
Figure 23.4

Demonstration against the ZAL in La Punta, València

Source:  Per l’Horta, 30 September 2017

Hotel Algarrobico, Almería 15

This is another instance of the environmental destruction of the Mediterranean coast ‒ not by urban sprawl and industry but by tourism: an illegal 21-storey and 411-room tourism facility built on one of Spain's few remaining unspoilt Mediterranean beaches, within the Cabo de Gata Nature reserve. Algarrobico Beach lies on Spain's south-eastern coast, close to the city of Carboneras (Almería province). The beach is of singular beauty. In 1985, the city council of Carboneras adopted rules according to the Urban Territory Laws of Andalusia. that defined the landscapes of Algarrobico as building land. Two years later, the National Park Cabo da Gata-Níjar was created, covering coastal areas in the region but not the Algarrobico beach. The year after, the Coastal Law was established, prohibiting constructions on protected land within 100 m of the sealine while the city council of Carboneras approved Hotel Algarrobico. In 1994, Cabo de Gata-Níjar Park was stretched to include the Algarrobico Beach. Shortly after, however, the government published private documents changing the status of Algarrobico Beach to unprotected building land again.

In 2001, Azata del Sol. S.L., a firm buying and selling real estate, applied for a licence to build a hotel on Algarrobico Beach. Two years later, Azata del Sol. S.L. acquired the licence and began building the hotel. Despite the Coastal Law's 100 m prohibition, the hotel was constructed 47 m from the sealine, with pools and surrounding walls closing the distance to the p. 522sealine to only 14 m. The Environmental Ministry of Andalusia then initiated the formalities for the expropriation.

The local ad-hoc environmental organization “Salvemos Mojácar” (Let's Save Mojácar) started lobbying against the hotel, which led to a halt in the hotel's construction work. The organization started to press for the demolition of the hotel which by then was practically built. The Andalusian Court ordered Azata del Sol. S.L. to allow for the demolition of the hotel in exchange for €2.3 million. Azata del Sol. S.L. responded by demanding a much larger sum, €200 million. The Government would not offer more than €40 million. In the following years (2007 until 2017), the government persistently proclaimed the need to protect Algarrobico Beach. Meanwhile, Greenpeace actively painted (both narratively and physically) the Azata del Sol S.L Hotel as illegal, stressed the demolition of the project, organized petitions against it and occupied the building.

By May 2020, Greenpeace requested the High Court of Justice of Andalusia to process by “urgent means” the procedure in which it must decide whether to order the immediate demolition of the hotel. In 2021 this request was refused and in December 2022 the Supreme Court also refused to order the demolition of the El Algarrobico Hotel. This “useless monstrosity” (inservible mamotreto as Greenpeace calls it) has become a symbol of the destruction of Mediterranean coastal landscapes by the tourist and the building industries.


In 2019, it was announced that the association of asbestos victims of Catalonia (AVAAC) would inaugurate a memorial dedicated to the Uralita factory workers affected by asbestos p. 523and to all the victims of this product. The monolith would be located at the crossroads between the towns of Ripollet and Cerdanyola, the so-called ‘ground zero’ of asbestos in Catalonia. Cerdanyola del Vallès is a town 10 km from Barcelona where, from 1907, asbestos-cement materials (or fibre cement) were first produced in Spain. Asbestos was presented as a modern, miraculous, and indestructible material, which contributed to industrial development. The Cerdanyola fibre cement factory, first Manufacturas Roviralta (1907), then Manufacturas Eternit (1933) and, finally, Uralita S.A. (1946), produced asbestos-containing materials until 1997, when it was definitely closed down. The consequences were illness and death. As so often in cases of working-class environmentalism characterized by “slow murder” or “slow violence”, it took a long time before there was any collective movement of protest and request for reparation of damages. In 1970, Joan Frisach died of asbestosis, the first recognized victim in Cerdanyola. Manuel Teruel was the second in 1976. These were followed by others.

The company and the doctors denied the cause and effect between asbestos and lung cancer. The 1960s and 1970s were years of impunity and corporate cruelty. In 1977, the most important complaints of Uralita workers were made through workers’ trade union Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), which were collected in a book published shortly after the death of General Franco in 1975. On 22 March 1977, a report from the Provincial Labour Delegation of Barcelona asked to “suspend work” at the Cerdanyola factory, given the “very high risk of toxicity” and the “three cases of deaths due to respiratory cancer”.

The behaviour of the company and the health authorities can be summarized as late and slow recognition, including cases of concealment of the diseases caused by asbestos. The company was condemned by courts for non-compliance with occupational health and safety regulations. Compensation payments were scarce and sporadic. The workers have not always denounced the cases, and many have died without receiving any moral satisfaction or any economic compensation. Uralita in Cerdanyola had some characteristics of a “company town”.

Importantly, apart from the factory workers, there have been non-occupational or environmental victims who acquired the disease by living close to the factory or by being relatives of contract workers. Belatedly, in 2003, the Asociación de Afectados por el Amianto en Cerdanyola y Ripollet was founded and filed a lawsuit against the company. Andreu Gené was recognized as an environmental victim of Uralita in 1978, and Filomena Martínez in 1985. They both died of pleural mesothelioma.

In 2000, the INE published that 158 people had died in Spain because of asbestos, while, according to trade unions CCOO and UGT, there had been 500 deaths. Other information states that “between 1989 and 1998, a total of 1,647 people died in Spain from mesothelioma”. Information from UGT and CCOO in 2004 gave the figure of 1,500 deaths. The estimate for the next 30 years in Spain is 40,000 to 56,000 deaths due to asbestos. In Cerdanyola, with 4,000 workers over the 90 years of existence of the Uralita factory, 1,500 people might have been affected by asbestos inhalation.

Every year over 150,000 people are deemed to die in the world from exposure to asbestos. It is still present in hundreds of products. More than 40 countries continue to allow the use of asbestos and continue to extract two million tons per year, which will foreseeably cause millions of deaths in the coming decades. A real massacre. There are other asbestos cases in the present book (in Italy and Brazil) and in the EJAtlas waiting (so to speak) for a specific book on these industrial environmental health conflicts (Sanchez 2009; Cárcoba 2000; Puche 2017).p. 524


Aznalcóllar (Boliden)'s Tailings Dam: Lack of Environmental Liability 17

On 25 April 1998, the tailings dam of the pyrite mine in Aznalcóllar (Seville) burst. The company responsible for the dam was Boliden. As a result, there was a significant discharge of acidic water and highly toxic sludge containing heavy metals. The discharge overflowed onto the banks of the Agrio and Guadiamar Rivers along 50 km, affecting a surface area of 4,600 ha. The sludge invaded the outer part of the Doñana National Park and flowed into the Guadalquivir River, and finally reached the Atlantic Ocean in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The consequences were 30 tons of dead animals, highly contaminated aquifers, and a world record of sudden heavy metal concentration in aquatic birds (Figure 23.5). After having spent millions of euros, several public administrations managed to leave the contaminated area relatively clean. On the damaged area and on the surrounding expropriated land, the natural protection Green Corridor between Sierra Morena and Doñana was created.

The Aznalcóllar tailings dam failure and the Rio Tinto mine (Domènech et al, 2002).
Figure 23.5

The Aznalcóllar tailings dam failure and the Rio Tinto mine

Source:  Domènech et al. 2002

When the tailings pond at the Aznalcóllar mine ruptured, it discharged more than six million tons of toxic mud and acidic water. The mine produced zinc, silver, lead and copper concentrates extracted from a pyritic deposit and also contained arsenic, cadmium and thallium. A typical tailings dam or containment dike had been built, progressively enlarged to increase its capacity. On the day of the disaster, the dam containing the waste broke. The upper and p. 525middle reaches of the Guadiamar River were affected by the sludge, and the lower reaches by acidic water. A wall was hastily built to prevent the expansion of the waste in the areas adjacent to the river, in this case, the Doñana National Park and the marshes. The Doñana National Park is world-famous.

The main affected areas were the crops and fruit trees on the land adjacent to the dam, which were devastated. On the other hand, the animals and plants that were in the Guadiamar River and that used it as a means of feeding were also fatally hit. This led to a reaction by the Junta de Andalucía (the regional government), which was the expropriation of the damaged land. This was the first large-scale case in Spain of expropriation due to an ecological disaster, and a plan for the rescue, recovery and conditioning of the entire basin was implemented.

In 2001, Boliden abandoned the mining operation, and the authorities demanded €90 million to clean up the sludge. In 2002, the 21 technical people allegedly responsible were acquitted, and then the Junta de Andalucía sued the company Boliden, but the Court declared itself incompetent. In 2004, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered Boliden-Aprisa to pay some €45 million in compensation for the damages caused. Boliden announced that it did not intend to pay because the accident was due to an “external factor”. In 2013, the Junta approved the decree that was theoretically going to allow the reopening of the mine. This decree was appealed before the Constitutional Court. In 2014, the Andalusian Parliament and Government, with the support of the parliamentary parties and trade unions, supported the reopening of the mine. In Andalusia, the rate of unemployment is high.

On the other hand, Ecologistas en Acción, SEO/BirdLife and WWF believe it is a scandal that Boliden escaped without facing up to criminal and civil liability, that the investment in the decontamination and subsequent regeneration as an ecological corridor of affected areas was paid for by the central and regional administrations, and that reopening the mine should be “an unacceptable risk” for the Doñana National Park.

The Rio Tinto Massacre of 1888 18

In this area of rich copper pyrites of Seville and Huelva provinces that reaches Southern Portugal, there was an early violent encounter between the Rio Tinto company and socio-environmental defenders. Today, under the name Rio Tinto there are Rio Tinto plc, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. The Rio Tinto company experienced various changes in ownership, but its name signals from its beginning much damage around the world.

The Rio Tinto Company was formed by investors in 1873 to mine ancient copper workings at Rio Tinto near Huelva. In 1888, the protests against air pollution led to a massacre carried out by the Spanish Army. The burning of pyrites still continued for a few years. There was much “manufacturing of uncertainty” regarding the cause of health and environmental damages, although the production of sulphur dioxide in the calcination process was perfectly known at the time.

As mentioned in Chapter 20, on 4 February 1888, a peaceful demonstration of 12,000 people shouting “Down with the fumes” gathered in the town hall square of Rio Tinto. The demonstration ended in tragedy. An army fusillade killed some 200 people. They were women, men, children, old people, peasants, miners and neighbours, accompanied by a brass band. They came from all corners of the mining area of Huelva. They were united in the League against the Calcinations and in the incipient trade union organizations. They demanded p. 526improvements in the work and, simultaneously, the end of air pollution and acid rain caused by the open-air calcination of pyrites to obtain copper for the expanding industry. There was no compensation for the mass killings.

It was the key episode in a process brewing for several years throughout the mining basin, parallel to the birth of workers’ organizations, mostly anarchists. The protests against the fumes and against the harsh working conditions in the mines of Rio Tinto multiplied due to the alliance of trade unions and the anti-smoke League led by local landowners of Zalamea la Real. Research by Pérez Cebada (2014), Dolores Ferrero (1999), Gerard Chastagnaret (2017) and David Avery (1974) on the history of the Rio Tinto company, shows how this alliance of wage workers, small farmers, some large landowners and neighbours was formed. After the massacre there was a debate in the Spanish Parliament, and echoes in the national and international press. And yet, no judicial or political responsibilities were derived, and the crimes went unpunished.

As in the parallel case of Ashio in Japan, such episodes are still relevant today. The Rio Tinto company (although legally quite distinct from the company active in 1888) appears in this book from Chile to Australia, from Bougainville to Madagascar. The protest in 1888 bears on the question of who are the protagonists of environmental justice movements? In Rio Tinto, there was an alliance against air pollution of different socioeconomic sectors alarmed by damage to their health, food gardens, crops and animals. This popular and interclass alliance had grievances and claims expressed in many meetings, and, finally, in the ill-fated rally in the town of Rio Tinto.

The subordination of the region of Huelva to the demands of copper mining and the extractive chemical industries continued. The Franco victory in the Spanish Civil War of 1936‒39 destroyed trade unions and later gave free rein to the dominance of the mining multinationals in the copper-belt. Other large-scale polluting industries with imported raw materials came to the industrial chemical hub of Huelva: copper smelting (Freeport McMoran), phosphate fertilizers, titanium ores, also oil refineries and gas pipelines. Questions arise on the systemic pattern of “corporate social irresponsibility” and cost-shifting.

Mina Cobre Las Cruces, Sevilla 19

In 2016, executives of First Quantum, a Canadian firm, were sentenced to a short term in prison for large-scale damage to the Niebla-Posadas aquifer in Andalusia. The Cobre las Cruces mining project is one of the largest active open pit copper mines in Europe, and it is located between the municipalities of Gerena, Guillena and Salteras, 15 km from Seville. The project area is located at the easternmost end of the Iberian Pyrite Belt characterized by the existence of numerous polymetallic sulphide and pyrite deposits. The reserves at Las Cruces are estimated at 16 million tons, with a copper grade of 6.2 per cent for 15 years.

The project comprises the extraction of the ore in an open-pit mine, followed by the extraction of the copper from the ore in the hydrometallurgical plant. High-purity copper metal is obtained in the form of copper sheets. The Las Cruces project began at the end of 1992, when the Junta de Andalucía granted several research permits to Riomin S.A., a company belonging to the Rio Tinto Zinc group. Currently, the project belongs to Cobre Las Cruces S.A., a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals.

The Las Cruces deposit is located under an aquifer, which makes it extremely sensitive to water management. In order to exploit this field, the company designed a system known as the p. 527Drainage and Reinjection System (SDR), which proposed to drain water from the aquifer only in the area where the field is located, and which was approved by Confederación Hidrográfica del Guadalquivir, CHG, in 2003 on the condition that it would not affect the quality or quantity of the water in the aquifer. However, in May 2008, a few months after the implementation of the SDR, the CHG stopped the system due to non-compliance with the authorization, which in turn led to stopping the mining activity by the Junta de Andalucía. Activity resumed in 2009 after the company submitted a new water management plan. The Junta's decision to resume mining was brought to court by the network Ecologistas en Acción and the state prosecutor.

This judicial process reached its end in September 2016. The three defendants, managers of the company, pleaded guilty to crimes against the environment and damage to the public domain. They were sentenced to one year and three months’ imprisonment and one year's disqualification from practising their profession. The compensation for civil liability was set at only €43,688 for contamination and €249,521 for illegal extraction of groundwater. The assessment of Ecologistas en Acción stressed its satisfaction with the decisions and claimed that “the crime of contamination and illegal extraction of groundwater is recognized” even if too many years late. Ecologistas en Acción also regretted the “passive attitude of the public administrations, which in addition to not appearing to defend the public domain and the health of the population, continue to protect the mine”.


As in other peripheral regions of Europe, a new movement has arisen against mining of new or old materials for the “electrical transition”. Copper is one of the old ones, and lithium one of the new ones (Dunlap and Riquito 2023). This is a list of current (2022) ad-hoc anti-mining platforms in the Iberian Peninsula, in the typical form of organization of burgeoning environmentalist movements of the people. Whether they win or lose (many of them will stop projects), they are likely to be ephemeral.

  • Plataforma vecinal mina Touro y O Pino Non

  • Plataforma Vida e Ría ou minaría de Lousame

  • Plataformas de la Red Contraminacción de Galicia

  • Coordinadora No a la Mina de Uranio (Retortillo, Salamanca)

  • Plataforma no en mi Tierra de Zamora

  • Plataformas No a la Mina en la Sierra de Yemas

  • No a la Mina en el Valle del Corneja

  • Plataforma No a la Mina en la Sierra de Ávila

  • Plataforma Salvemos la Montaña (Cáceres)

  • Plataforma de La Raya Sin Minas de Valencia de Alcántara

  • Plataforma Tamuja de Plasenzuela

  • Plataforma Sierra de Gata Viva

  • Plataforma Salvemos las Villuercas (Cáceres)

  • Plataforma Oro No de Tapia de Casariego (Asturias)

  • Plataforma Salvemos Esparteros de Morón de la Frontera (Sevilla)

  • Plataforma de Afectados por Metales Pesados de El Llano del Beal (Cartagena)

  • Unidos em Defensa de Covas do Barroso (Portugal) p. 528

Lithium in Cáceres 20

A new lithium belt is opening up in Extremadura and in Portugal, another opportunity for transboundary environmental movement. The population of the city of Cáceres in Extremadura (50 km from the Portuguese border) opposes the opening of a lithium mine only 800 m from the limit of this historical city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The company Tecnología Extremeña del Litio, a subsidiary of a joint venture promoted by Valoriza Minería (subsidiary of Sacyr S.A.) and Plymouth Minerals Ltd (which changed its name to Infinity Lithium Corporation), wants to carry out an open-pit lithium mine project of 412 ha (could later be extended to 1,175 ha). It would have a pit of 1,100 m in diameter and 500 m in depth, a beneficiation plant with a furnace for the roasting process, an evaporation pond for the washing of minerals and 290 ha for the tailings waste.

The mine would be built in the Montaña and the Sierra de la Mosca, locating the open pit in the Valdeflores Valley, an area of high biodiversity, great ecological value and social importance. This mountain range connects protected natural areas including Special Protection Areas for Birds. Traditionally, it is a place of religious worship (with the Sanctuary of the Virgin of La Montaña) and a residential area; its paths are used for hiking, sports and for an environmental educational activity. It has a traditional economy (horticulture, olive groves, almond trees, livestock, beekeeping, and firewood production). The holm oaks and pastures are deemed to give the city of Cáceres its healthy air.

Lithium has become highly coveted for the production of electric batteries. Behind the mine project in Valdeflores are geopolitical interests to achieve European Union (EU) self-sufficiency in lithium: the EU is the third world consumer of this mineral. For this reason, in 2017 the “European Battery Alliance” (EBA) was created with the aim to “create a strategic value chain for batteries in Europe” that at the European level involves lithium extraction projects such as Caceres, or those that are intended to be developed in Portugal, Sweden or the Czech Republic.

How was the Platform Save the Montaña de Cáceres born? (Figure 23.6). The social mobilization began in the summer of 2017 after the first news of the mine appeared in the press. Then, the first informative meetings were held, the Citizen Platform “Save the Montaña of Cáceres” was created, a first press conference was convened, the collection of signatures began and the first hiking march to Valdeflores was carried out to inform interested people of the project and publicize the values of the place. The first informative material, “9 reasons to say No to the Open Pit Mine in the Montaña de Cáceres” was made. Over the next years, much geolocated information on the risks of this project was disseminated through videos or posters, used for countless talks, workshops, and neighbourhood meetings.

No a la mina en la montaña de Cáceres (Plataforma Salvemos la Montaña).
Figure 23.6

No a la mina en la montaña de Cáceres

Source:  Plataforma Salvemos la Montaña

Administrative irregularities allowed legal appeals by the Asociación para la Información y Comunicación Ambiental (ACIMA) and the Asociación para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y los Recursos de Extremadura (ADENEX) on 27 November 2017. They alleged that the permit had failed to comply with the public exposure deadlines. With this appeal, the permit “Extension to Valdeflores” was annulled, and a new public exposure was held. In January 2018, around 10,800 allegations were submitted to the new “Extension to Valdeflores”. This strategy of legal appeals and citizen allegations was repeated in 2018 on the Permit “Trasquilón”.

Another legal complaint was promoted by the Sierra de la Mosca neighbourhood association on 12 January 2018, before the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) for logging trees and opening illegal roads carried out by Tecnología Extremeña del Litio. On 16 February p. 5292018, the City Council issued an order to paralyze and seal the mine. The machines were removed by the company and the drilling and earthworks stopped. In May 2019, the General Directorate of the Environment of the Junta de Extremadura fined Tecnología Extremeña del Litio for opening roads and razing vegetation without the mandatory EIA.

Another achievement was the rejection of the project by the municipality of Cáceres, that in April 2018 voted against the modification of the Municipal General Plan (PGM) requested by the company (the PGM in force maintains diverse protections on the Montaña). In addition to the legal appeals, cultural activities and mobilizations were organized as the march held on 21 January 2018, in which around 1.,000 people participated. On 3 February and 14 April, demonstrations were held in the Plaza Mayor of Cáceres to repudiate the project, attended by 3,000 people.

Throughout those years, the Platform Save the Montaña of Cáceres was weaving articulations, participating in the IV collective meeting ContraMinAcción in Galicia together with platforms against other mining projects in the Iberian Peninsula. For its work, the Save the Montaña platform received the “Berta Cáceres” Award from Ecozine in May 2018 and the award from the Association for Defence and Resources of Extremadura (Adenex) in November 2019. The final outcome is still open, as there is pressure to increase lithium production, although there are promises that sodium-based batteries could become commercially viable.p. 530

Save Salau, on the Spanish-French Border: Tungsten/Wolfram 21

While lithium, copper and uranium are causing conflicts near the Portuguese-Spanish border, at the French-Spanish border, there is one case of conflict on the mining of tungsten (wolfram) in Salau. Wolfram is a famous mineral in the Iberian Peninsula since the Second World War, when Nazi Germany secured access to this mineral.

On both sides of the Catalan border in the Pyrenees there is resistance against tungsten mining by Apollo Minerals from Australia. This is a preventive conflict. As reported in October 2018, a large exploitation project in search of tungsten in the municipality of Alt Àneu, which also covers the other side of the border with France, was driven by the company Neometal Spania. Promoted by the local administrations, the inhabitants of Isil and Alòs d’Isil constituted the Salvem Salau platform, on the mountain pass in which the drilling is intended, with an extension of 27 km2. According to Sofía Isús, president of the Municipal Entity of Isil, “we do not understand that such aggressive mining practices can be allowed in such an ecologically sensitive area that it is the habitat of numerous protected species, including the (reintroduced) brown bear”. This is denounced by the platform, as also that all the extra traffic would pass through the small towns. The platform, which coordinates with the French organization Stop Mine Salau, has asked the management of the Natural Park of Alt Pirineu for a “regulation of uses that ensures which activities cannot be hosted”. On the French side, the project was refused in court in 2019, and again in 2020.

The exploration permit granted in 2016 by the French State for the Salau mine covered eight minerals, including tungsten, copper and gold. Tungsten is one of the critical metals listed by the European Union. This extremely resistant and non-substitutable metal is prized by the arms, aeronautics, nuclear and high-tech industries.

It is optimistically reported that this mine could rank third in the world and ensure European autonomy in tungsten. However, stock exchange speculation is suspected of trying to push up the share value of the French and Australian companies involved. There are favourable local views for a strong territorial anchoring with an associated treatment plant, while respecting social and environmental standards. Opponents, for their part, multiply the arguments: the environmental disaster, the threat to wildlife, pollution and dubious financial arrangement with a venture capital company domiciled in a tax haven.


Of the approximately 115 conflict cases registered in the EJAtlas from the Iberian Peninsula, about 25 have been featured in this and other chapters. The transboundary conflict on tungsten mining in Salau is one of many such new mining struggles in peripheral Europe, and so is the remarkable lithium protest in Covas do Barroso in Portugal and also in Cáceres where the values in dispute are respect for the local natural environment (Iberian dehesas with holm oaks and pastures), the implications of mining near a religious “sanctuary”, the historical cultural patrimony, the impact on water availability. All this is against the metabolic hunger for lithium as part of an electrical transition that requires “sacrifice zones” in peripheral Europe. p. 531Let's destroy the Montaña de Cáceres for the sake of the environment. Quite similar is the anti-uranium conflict in Retortillo in the neighbouring province of Salamanca.

The cases of Rio Tinto (copper mining) in 1888 and Cerdanyola (asbestosis) in the late twentieth century can be interpreted not just as working-class environmentalism because trade unions joined with allies from other sectors of civil society, such as neighbours and citizens against a Spanish company (Uralita), peasants and landowners in Rio Tinto ‒ at the heart of the pyrite belt of south-western Spain and Portugal. In Aznalcóllar, after the failure of Boliden's tailings dam, environmental organizations, scientists and professionals were active. The Boliden company eluded its socio-environmental liabilities (in Spain as also in Chile).

While asbestosis in Cerdanyola is a case of damage to health because of industrial processes and waste, other conflicts have to do with the risks from the burning of domestic or industrial waste in cement factories or in urban incinerators (sometimes called “energy valorization”) or the dumping of waste in landfills. Several cement factories (the Lafarge factory in Montcada i Reixac, Cimpor and Secil cement kilns in Souselas (Portugal), and Morata de Tajuña (Madrid)) are involved in controversy. On its side, industrial waste in Zaldibar landfill in the Basque Country led to its collapse and some mortal victims in early 2020, while the outsized incinerator of Son Reus in Mallorca continues its negative career.

In Spain, local ad-hoc movements usually call themselves “Plataformas” or “Coordinadoras”. They are sometimes supported by permanent organizations, mainly the confederation Ecologistas en Acción, which often appears in the Spanish conflicts together with local groups. Other new networks appear, such as Nueva Cultura del Agua, formed in 2000 in opposition to the water transfer from the Ebro River, whose spokesman Pedro Arrojo got a Goldman Prize. There still are many fights over dams in the Iberian Peninsula. I have included a summary of those in Portugal and two cases from Spain. Space lacks for the conflicts on water transfer from the Tagus to the Segura River, the Xúquer Viu campaign in València (which is also part of the anti-nuclear campaign “Tanquem Cofrents”), and the great campaign from the early 2000s still continuing today against the transfer of Ebro River water from Aragon and Catalonia to SE Spain that would contribute to destroying the Ebro Delta (Figure 23.7) even quicker than is happening because of the retention of sediments in the great dams of Mequinenza and Riba-roja. But there are many more hydro-social conflicts on access to water and memories of famous dam failures, like Ribadelago. The hydropower companies have been and are in command (Swyngedouw 2015).

“Lo riu és vida”. Against the Ebro River water transfer (ACN).
Figure 23.7

“Lo riu és vida”. Against the Ebro River water transfer

Source:  ACN

Hydropower, which is in principle renewable, causes conflicts, and we could have also included some instances of conflictive windmill “parks”. Regarding another energy source, we include the closing down of Almaraz in Spain, near the Portuguese border. We also include conflicts on the spread of eucalyptus trees as biomass inputs for the cellulose and paper pulp industry, attracting terrible fires and siphoning off the water. Hydropower, nuclear power, new mining, and biomass plantations all have conflictive transboundary aspects, as also the gas and electricity transport between Spain and France.

Keywords of this chapter are waste management, mining and hydropower, but we also emphasize the infrastructure and land-grabbing conflicts, very common on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. La Punta in València, where the villagers and neighbours defend an agricultural landscape, is an example, as also the grotesque conflict of the Hotel Algarrobico in Almeria.p. 532

In this book, I am taking “a sample within a sample”. This is what I do in this chapter on Portugal and Spain, not exactly a random walk but rather a guided toxic tour based on my own preferences but trying to give a general view to the readers. I should add fisheries conflicts, where Spain is on the ocean-grabbing side. There are many other regions in the world of similar size and population with as many relevant environmental conflicts as in Spain and Portugal. But the point has been made: there is popular resistance everywhere to an industrial system that damages health and environment, requiring biomass, land and water grabbing, fossil fuels and nuclear energy, old and new minerals, and producing much polluting waste. Similar commodities, similar grievances, ad-hoc networks, claims and failures, but also some successes in environmental justice.



Burgen, S. (2014). Tagus river at risk of drying up completely, The Guardian, 14 August.


O Mirante (2020). Arlindo Marques é Personalidade do Ano Cidadania, 23 January.

Celtejo's SLAPP against Arlindo Marques ‒ Celulose do Tejo, SA, Portugal (proTEJO ‒ Movimento pelo Tejo); EJAtlas.


Map of Environmental Conflicts and Mobilization in Portugal, EJAtlas.


Eucalyptus monoculture and common lands, Portugal (Rita Serra, Stefania Barca, Teresa Meira), EJAtlas.


Industrial complex in Pontevedra, Spain (Amaranta Herrero), EJAtlas.p. 533


Nuclear Power Station in Almaraz, Spain (Amaranta Herrero), EJAtlas.


Retortillo mine exploitation of uranium in Spain-Portugal border, Spain (Miriam Ruiz, Lucia Oliveira, Marta Conde, Jose Ramon Barrueco), EJAtlas.

Euro Weekly News (2021). Retortillo Uranium Mine Project in Salamanca, vetoed by nuclear safety council, 12 June.


Multiple struggles against new large dams, Portugal (Lúcia Fernandes, Sofia Bento, Teresa Meira), EJAtlas.


Itoiz dam, Spain (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Recrecimiento Embalse de Yesa, Spain (Eva Muñoz), EJAtlas.

Boquera Margalef, M. (2007). “Lo Riu és Vida”: Percepcions antropològiques de l’Ebre català. Doctoral thesis, URV, Tarragona.


Co-incineration in Cimpor and Secil cement kilns, Portugal (Lays Silva, Lúcia Fernandes and Teresa Meira), EJAtlas.


Waste incineration fuelled cement plant in Morata de Tajuña, Spain (Amaranta Herrero), EJAtlas.


Zaldibar industrial waste dump, Basque Country, Spain (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Incinerator in Son Reus, Mallorca, Spain (Gabriel Weber), EJAtlas.


Port expansion in La Punta, Valencia, Spain (Amaranta Herrero, Liduvina Calatayud), EJAtlas.

El Diario (2020). Colectivos ecologistas y vecinales exigen convertir la ZAL de Valencia en un espacio verde después de la sentencia judicial, 9 April.


Hotel Algarrobico, Almeria, Spain (Felicia Sörman, Nina Lundin, Julia Blomberg), EJAtlas.

Cinco Días (2022). El Supremo rechaza ordenar la demolición inminente del hotel de El Algarrobico, 13 December.


Uralita asbestos factory in Cerdanyola del Vallès, Catalonia, Spain (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Aznalcóllar tailings dam failure, Spain (Joan Martinez-Alier, Talia Waldron), EJAtlas.

Domènech, C., De Pablo, J. and Ayora, C. (2002). Oxidative dissolution of pyritic sludge from the Aznalcóllar mine (SW Spain), Chemical Geology, 190(1‒4): 339‒353.


The Rio Tinto Company and the massacre of 1888, Andalusia, Spain (JPC, FT, Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Guillem-Llobat, X. Medical Experts and Agnotology in the Fumes Controversy of the Huelva Copper Mines (1888–1890), Medical History, 61(03): 424-443.


Mina Cobre Las Cruces, Sevilla, Spain (M.J. Beltran and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Mina de litio a cielo abierto San José Valdeflores, Cáceres, España, EJAtlas. Also,


StopMine Salau and Salvem Salau campaign, Pyrenees. France and Spain (Joan Martínez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Monograph Book