MOROCCO - ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS
Morocco is one of seven countries and territories that make up North Africa; it is bordered by Algeria to the east and southeast, the Western Sahara to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. The Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla sit on the country’s northern coast.
Morocco has an area of 446, 550 km2 (discounting the disputed territory of Western Sahara) making it the 25th largest country in Africa and the 58th largest country in the world. The country’s terrain is mainly mountainous; in the north, on the Mediterranean coastline, one finds the Rif Mountains, home to several large-scale iron ore mines, whilst the Atlas Mountains, which run though Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, occupy the central part of the country. The remaining land consists mainly of high and low plains, plateaus and valleys.
Morocco is generally considered to have a typical Mediterranean climate, experiencing hot, dry summers and wet but mild winters. Higher levels of rainfall occur in the mountainous regions, where snowfall can also occur in the winter months; towards the south of the country, close to the Sahara Desert, there is a semi-arid climate.
Morocco enjoys considerable biodiversity, especially in relation to birdlife. Over 450 species of bird can be found within the country including golden eagles, storks, pelicans, flamingos and various species of grebes, cormorants, herons, egrets, kites, hawks and falcons. Other wildlife includes jackals, foxes, porcupines, gazelles and hyenas; numerous species of primates also live in the county, including the now endangered Barbary macaque. Oak, poplar and cork trees are common; Cedar forests are found in the Middle Atlas region where juniper and pine trees also grow. In the south-west, the endemic Argan trees grow, covering a vast expanse now designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Desertification, over farming and water pollution are amongst environmental challenges faced by the country.
PRINCIPAL LEGISLATION AND REGULATOR
According to Article 31 of the Constitution of Morocco (2011), the State shall use all available means to facilitate the right of all citizens to access a healthy environment. In 2003 the government began to promulgate new laws designed to protect the environment and update the previous legal framework, which dated back some 50 years. The primary environmental laws of relevance to the mining industry include: Law No. 99-12 concerning a National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development; Law No. 11-03 pertaining to the protection and improvement of the environment; Law No. 12-03 pertaining to environmental impact studies (EIA Law); Decree No. 2-04-563 pertaining to the powers and operation of the national committee and regional committees on environmental impact assessments (Decree No. 2-04-563); Decree No. 2-04-564 pertaining to the procedures and organisation of public inquiries for environmental impact studies (Decree No. 2-04-564); Law No. 33-13 (Mining Law); and Decree No 2-15-807 (Mining Decree).
The Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment oversees the mining industry and takes responsibility for environmental protection in Morocco. The Ministry has an Environmental Evaluation Division (EED), specifically responsible for managing and auditing environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies. National and Regional Environmental Committees have also been established and these committees take an active role in the EIA process. The National Environmental Committee for EIA (NECEIA) is responsible for examining the EIA study and must give an opinion to the EED on the environmental acceptability of projects, as well as participate in the development of guidelines relating to the EIA process (Ch. 1, Art. 2, Decree No. 2-04-563). The NECEIA is responsible for reviewing all projects with an investment threshold of over 200 million MAD (around 20 million USD), as well as projects which impact multiple regions or are considered cross-border (Ch. 1, Art. 3, Decree No. 2-04-563). Regional Environmental Committees for EIA (RECEIA) shall review all projects below the investment threshold above, performing the same role as the NECEIA at a regional level (see Ch. 2, Decree No. 2-04-563). The committees include representatives of various government authorities including energy and mining, planning, water and industry (see Arts. 4 & 14, Decree No. 2-04-563).
Article 59 of the Mining Law requires mining licence holders to undertake an EIA study in order to demonstrate the environmental acceptability of the project. The Mining Law also requires rights holders to undertake extraction in a way that takes into account the regulations relating to environmental protection (Art. 52, Mining Law). Mining industry activities that require an EIA study as mandatory are also listed in the Annex to the EIA Law (see also Art. 2, EIA Law); generally speaking, exploration activities shall not require an EIA study.
In order to proceed with a project, mining licence holders will need to obtain a positive decision from the EED in relation to the environmental acceptability of the proposed works (see Ch. 1, Art. 1.4, EIA Law; see also Ch. 2, Art. 7, EIA Law). The EIA study shall form part of the application for government approval and should allow for the evaluation of direct and indirect impacts that can effect the environment in the short, medium and long term as a result of the implementation of the project (see Ch. 1, Art. 1.2, EIA Law).
According to Article 5 of the EIA Law, the objectives of the EIA study are: to evaluate in a systematic and preliminary way the possible repercussions and the direct and indirect, temporary and permanent impacts of the project on the environment, particularly on man, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climate, the natural environment and the biological balance as well as various other aspects; to eliminate, alleviate and compensate the negative impacts of the project; to promote and improve the positive impacts of the project on the environment; and to inform the relevant general public about the negative impacts of the project.
Pursuant to Article 6 of the EIA Law, an EIA study must consist of the following elements:
- An overall description of the site which is likely to be affected;
- A description of the main components, characteristics and phases of implementation of the project, including manufacturing processes, the nature and quantities of raw materials and energy resources used, the liquid, gaseous and solid waste, as well as the waste generated by the implementation or exploitation of the project;
- An evaluation of the positive, negative and harmful impacts of the project on the biological, physical and human environment that could be affected;
- Measures envisaged by the applicant to eliminate, reduce or compensate for the harmful consequences of the project and measures aimed at promoting and improving the positive impacts of the project;
- A monitoring and follow up programme of the project as well as the measures envisaged in terms of training, communication and management aimed at ensuring that implementation, exploitation and development are in accordance with the technical specifications and with the environmental requirements of the study;
- A presentation of the legal and institutional framework pertaining to the project and to the premises where it will be implemented, as well as forecast costs;
- A summary of the content and conclusions of the EIA study; and
- A simplified summary of the information and essential data contained in the study for the attention of the public.
A public inquiry must be held with the aim of informing the public and allowing observations and suggestions to be made which the NECEIA and EED will consider during assessment of the application (Art. 9, EIA Law). In cases where a public inquiry is held relating to the granting of the mining licence the environmental study may form part of the same hearing (Art. 9, EIA Law). The applicant must notify the administration of any information which is to be kept confidential during the public inquiry stage (Art 10, EIA Law).
The public inquiry is held in accordance with Decree No. 2-04-564. The applicant must file a request to conduct a public inquiry with the relevant RECEIA. The request must be accompanied by the following documents, prepared in both Arabic and French: a fact sheet highlighting the main technical characteristics of the project; a clear summary of the project and the main data including in the EIA study, including details of the negative and positive impacts of the project and the measures envisaged to offset the environmental impact; and a site plan of the area (Art. 2, Decree No. 2-04-564). Within 10 days of the receipt of a request, an order for the opening of the public inquiry shall be issued (Art. 3, Decree No. 2-04-564). The order shall specify: the nature of the project and its location; the population concerned within the limits of the impact area; the opening and closing date of the inquiry; the location where a copy of the application and further information may be obtained; and the details of those responsible for the inquiry (Art. 5, Decree No. 2-04-564). The order shall be issued at least 15 days prior to the opening of the inquiry and must be published in two daily newspapers and displayed in the area where the project is located (Art. 6, Decree No. 2-04-564).
The public inquiry shall be chaired by a committee, the composition of which is established by Decree (see Art. 4, Decree No. 2-04-564). For the duration of the inquiry a register shall be kept to record observations and suggestions relating to the project (Art. 7, Decree No. 2-04-564). The inquiry itself shall last for a period of 20 days, following which time a report, summarising the comments and proposals made by the public, shall be prepared; this report shall be forwarded to the NECEIA or RECEIA, depending on the nature of the project (Art. 8, Decree No. 2-04-564).
The NECEIA or RECEIA shall then review the EIA study and the findings of the public inquiry and an opinion shall be issued within 20 days of receipt of the report on the public inquiry (Arts. 11 & 21, Decree 2-04-563) or 30 days where additional information is required (Arts. 12 & 22, Decree 2-04-563). This opinion shall be forwarded to the EED, which shall, in accordance with the advice given, issue a decision on the environmental acceptability of the project. This decision shall be issued within 5 days of the receipt of the relevant committees’ findings (Arts. 11 & 21, Decree 2-04-563).
The applicant may, within a maximum period of 30 days from the date of notification of the decision on environmental acceptability, submit to the Minister of Environment a request for reconsideration of the rejection of the project; in such cases the NECEIA shall reconsider the application and issue its decision within 10 days (Art. 24, Decree 2-04-563).
Projects must be implemented within 5 years of a decision on environmental acceptability or a new EIA study shall be required (Art. 19, EIA Law).