Government ministers arriving for the weekly Council of State at the Royal Palace on Friday were met by noisy and angry demonstrators, protesting their decision last week to allow a controversial mining and dumping operation in Finnmark. More protests were held through the weekend, in Alta, Tromsø, Hamar, Flekkefjord, Sunndal, Trondheim and Oslo.
The decision to allow copper mining on reindeer grazing land, and then dump tailings from the operation into the fjord below, has ignited protests all over the country. Critics conceded that copper and other minerals are needed in the battle to reduce carbon emissions, but they don’t think the plans for Kvalsund in Finnmark meet high enough standards.
“We can’t accept mining operations at any price,” Gaute Eiterjord told state broadcaster NRK. He leads the environmental organization Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth), which was beind the protest on palace grounds.
Hundreds make their voices heard
Several hundred otheres gathered in Tromsø on Saturday, while around 150 protested in downtown Alta, encouraging Sami reindeer herder Nils Mikkelsen Utsi. He’s among those with reindeer that have grazed on the mountain plateau above the fjord for years, and feels like the government is allowing mining firm Nussir ASA to scar the land and pollute the fjord. Nussir won permission to produce 50,000 tons of copper from a government keen on exploiting Norway’s natural resources including minerals, oil and gas.
“I’m really glad so many people are protesting,” Utsi told NRK. More protests are planned, with demonstrators carrying signs that the dumping of mine tailing in the fjord north of Hammerfest amounts to a national shame.
Trade Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen defends the mining plans, noting that copper is among minerals needed to build cables that will allow more electrification as opposed to power from fossil fuels, along with batteries for more electric cars. Copper is also needed for solar panels and windmills.
Plans aren’t good enough
Lars Haltbrekken, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV) who formerly led Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth, agreed that it’s important to extract minerals but doesn’t think the government’s plans for mining operations and dealing with mine waste are good enough. Nor do Sami activists and entertainers Mari Boine and Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, with Boine saying she’ll join those already planning to chain themselves together to stop mining equipment.
“I’m 62 and perhaps don’t have the strength to protest as strongly as those younger, but I’ll be there,” Boine told NRK.
Others, including seven reindeer-herding families in Finnmark, are planning to file a legal challenge against the mining operation, and have support from a law professor at the University of Northern Norway, Øyvind Ravna. He’s a Sami himself, and believes the government is violating the human rights of herders by potentially stripping them of their livelihoods. Government officials counter that they have no obligation to win approval from those involved in reindeer herding.