Cablegate: Madrid Environment Tidbits

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

051117Z Oct 04




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Madrid's ESTH Officer periodically groups together and
reports ESTH developments that might otherwise "fall below
the reporting bar." Key issues will continue to be reported
via "stand alone" cables. ESTH Officer Ken Forder welcomes
feedback at


A. Prestige oil spill clean up winding down.
B. Regulatory regime concerning oil spill liabilities.
C. Ship bearing Spanish hazardous cargo "sinks" off Turkey.
D. Chemical Spill fouls Catalan river.
E. State-funded environmental watchdog group to be founded.
F. Madrid's "Green Patrol" hunts enviro-criminals.
G. Water prices to rise.


3. Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega
announced that the extraction of the last remaining amounts
of oil from the "Prestige," which sank off the Galician coast
in November 2002 with 13,000 tons of crude oil aboard, was
"practically completed." As a result, de la Vega said the
government would soon abolish the "Prestige Commission
Office," which had handled the cleanup, and would replace it
with a much cheaper permanent "Coordination Center." The new
center will direct a working group that will draft an
"Integral Contingency Plan" which would be applied after any
future similar disaster. In July, the Government
appropriated 249.5 million euros to pay for ongoing
compensation claims related to the disaster. The Government
believes these funds should be sufficient to address the vast
majority of outstanding compensation claims. A cabinet
document announcing the above measures acknowledged, however,
that legal liability battles regarding the Prestige (e.g., a
Spanish Government civil suit against ABS, the company that
had certified the Prestige's seaworthiness) continue to rage
in New York.

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4. The Spanish cabinet announced September 10 that several
separate government regulations touching upon liability
issues related to civil responsibility for damages caused by
maritime oil spills would be unified under one Royal Decree
Law. These regulations, which date from the 1970s through
the 1990s, were generally adopted to bring international
instruments into force in Spain. Spain presumably decided,
in the aftermath of the Prestige disaster, that its civil
liability interests would be better protected if these
disparate regulations were harmonized under the rubric of a
Royal Decree Law.

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5. In a story too long and tangled to fully relate here, on
September 6, a Saint Vincent-flagged, Turkish-owned vessel
carrying toxic materials from Asturias, Spain to a
construction project in Algeria, sank off the coast of
Turkey. The cargo was 3,500 metric tons of Spanish origin
chromium ash that had been purchased by the French firm
Lafarge in 1999 to use in a construction project in Algeria.
When the ship arrived off Algeria in 1999, the ash was found
to have been contaminated by water and Lafarge refused to
take delivery. The Spanish supplier did not want the cargo
back, saying it now belonged to Larfarge. The vessel thus
went to Turkey, where local authorities refused to let it
unload the cargo pending legal resolution of the case. Spain
finally agreed in 2004 to take the cargo back, at least
temporarily. Three days before the ship was to depart for
Spain, it sank, reportedly with only 2,200 metric tons of the
ash on board. Sabotage is strongly suspected and it is
presumed that the remaining 1,300 metric tons of ash were
dumped either on the way from Algeria to Turkey or somewhere
near the vessel's temporary berth in Turkey. Turkish
authorities have reportedly prohibited fishing within 200
meters of the site and claim that the cargo has not yet begun
to leak. Following an official request from the Turkish
Government, Spain's Environment Ministry dispatched two
technicians to Turkey to help with clean up efforts. EU
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom announced that the
EU would not have jurisdiction in the case because "the
contamination took place in a third (non EU) country."


6. A report prepared by Spain's National Science Research
Council (CSIC) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona has
accused the Spanish "Erkimia" chemical company of illegally
dumping over 360,000 tons of toxic waste into the Ebro River.
The company denied the charge, noting that its discharges
had been correctly treated in accordance with law. The
report said that an area of the Ebro equivalent to 10 city
blocks had been fouled on its bottom and banks and that the
waste was now also rising to the surface. It also noted that
as a result of Erkimia's discharges, the Flix reservoir had
been contaminated with DDT, 18 tons of mercury, and 60 tons
of other heavy metals. The report said the waste was
produced in the process of extracting phosphates from animal
feeds imported from Morocco. The Environment Ministry said
clean up efforts would begin in 2005 and be finished by 2008.
The Environment Ministry also appeared to back Erkimia's
claims that it had respected the law, noting that the crux of
the problem was "long-standing" pollution levels rather than
specific Erkimia actions. The report accused the Catalan
authorities of having been aware of the problem, without
taking action, since 1996.

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7. Environment Minister Cristina Narbona announced in August
that the Government would soon create an independent, but
state-financed, environmental watchdog group charged with
producing an annual report evaluating the efficacy of the
Government's environmental policies. The report would be
released sometime in the first three months of each calendar
year, with the first report expected by March of 2005. The
group would include private sector experts, NGO
representatives, scientists, university representatives,
businessmen, and members of local and regional governments.
Most financing would come from the Government, but it is
hoped that civil society will also help pay the group's
operating costs. One of Narbona's top advisors said they
were inspired by the EU's "spring report" evaluating the
efficacy of the EU's environmental policies.

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8. The Environmental Protection Unit of Madrid's municipal
police, otherwise known as "the Green Patrol," reported that
it filed charges in 110 cases during the course of 2003. The
unit, which has 89 members, noted that the total number of
charges filed was lower than in previous years, attributing
the reduction to greater public understanding of the need to
protect the environment. Combating noise pollution was one
of the unit's greatest priorities. The unit has installed 21
decibel meters throughout the city and has trained 250 other
officers in mediating noise-related disputes between
neighbors. It also stopped 1,254 persons in 2003 for driving
vehicles whose noise levels exceeded the regulated norm.
Most of these vehicles had had their mufflers illegally


9. Environment Minister Cristina Narbona, hot on the heels of
announcing the PSOE's new water management plan (Reftel),
announced that the Spanish Government would gradually phase
in a policy to have water prices reflect the cost of new (but
not existing) water-related infrastructure. The PSOE's water
management plan, which emphasizes coastal desalinization
plants over its predecessor's river diversion schemes, also
puts greater emphasis on water conservation. A gradual
increase in water prices, in part to finance the new
desalinization infrastructure (20 new plants and the
modernization of many existing facilities), should help
depress water demand, or at least lower its rate of increase.
By 2010, according to Narbona, water prices will reflect the
full cost of new water-related infrastructure. The
opposition People's Party (PP) predictably attacked Narbona's
announcement, noting that the PP's now defunct river
diversion scheme included no provisions for increasing water

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