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Swedish government bypasses justice decision to avoid cement shortage

It goes against an environmental court decision

The government of Sweden proposes a law to avoid a serious shortage of cement in the country. But it goes against Sweden's justice rulings. Ministers justify it by reducing the societal consequences of a halt of the cement production in the country.

Sweden environment court didn't validate the renewal of the permit for cement extraction in Slite
Sweden environment court didn't validate the renewal of the permit for cement extraction in Slite | Cementa communications

On September 21,  the minister of the Environment and Climate Per Bolund and the minister for Business, Industry and Innovation Ibrahim Baylan held a joint press conference about the cement production site in Slite.

It follows a decision of the Swedish Supreme Land and Environmental Court that didn't accept to renew Cementa's permit for mining limestone in Gotland, the country's largest island in the middle of the Baltic sea. The mining permit expires on October 31.

Facing a forthcoming shortage of cement and a halt of the construction industry, accounting for 11% of Sweden's gross domestic product, the government decided to propose a law allowing to continue limestone extraction.

On August 10, the government had announced a memorandum to change the legislation and continue the extraction and water activities in "exceptional situations".

The bill includes a temporary amendment to the Code of Environment so that the government can consider a permit to conduct limestone mining if the "activity is of social importance and society's need for limestone cannot be met in any other way".

The industry warns a shortage of cement puts up to 200,000 jobs at risk in Sweden | Cementa communications

The government doesn't follow the decisions of justice

But the government's proposal goes against Sweden's justice system and the decisions of the Supreme Land and Environmental Court, the Supreme Court, and the Council on Legislation's opinion. The Council on Legislation is a government agency giving a non-binding judgement on the legal validity of legislative proposals.

In July, the Supreme Land and Environmental Court of Sweden had considered the application for renewing the permit included shortcomings in the company’s assessment on the impact of the activity on groundwater that could not be ignored. As a consequence, the application for a permit, valid for 20 years, was rejected.

On August 25, the Supreme Court validated the justice decision. "The Supreme Court has reviewed the material in the case and concluded that there is no reason to grant leave to appeal. [...] The decision of the Supreme Land and Environmental Court is thus upheld."

On September 9, the Council on Legislation considered the law is so tied to the current situation that it would not meet requirements of generality. As such, the regulations "appears to be a measure taken - not to change the rules in general - but to correct the outcome of the concrete permit process that ended with the Supreme Court's decision".

It also criticized an attempt for not respecting a justice decision: "Introducing legislation that is entirely focused on correcting the outcome in an individual case that has been handled in court damages confidence in the Swedish legal system".

Construction of houses in Sweden may be stopped in November
Most constructions of houses in Sweden may be stopped in November because of shortage of cement | Stockholm, Jon Flobrant

Concerns in Sweden's construction activities without cement

The quarry located in Slite and operated by Cementa, the largest and only manufacturer of cement in Sweden, provides 75% of the cement of the country. The industry quickly raised the alarm on the consequences of a looming cement shortage in Kingdom.

Byggföretagen, the Swedish Construction Federation, a trade association representing private construction companies and employers, predicted that the construction of 3 in 4 new homes in Sweden would be stopped from November. It also claimed Sweden would lose SEK 20 billion (US $2.3 billion) of investment per month and put 150,000 to 200,000 jobs at risk because of a cement shortage.

In early July, minister Ibrahim Baylan had yet told Dagens industri that "if the verdict stands, the business must cease".

The amendments will now be discussed at the Riksdag, Sweden's parliament. They are supposed to come into force on October 15 and expire at the end of 2021.

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