To supervise recovery works of the Doce river basin after Fundão dam rupture in Mariana is one of the main efforts of Secretary of State for the Environment of Minas Gerais (Semad) Germano Luiz Gomes Vieira. Since taking office in November 2017, the lawyer, a specialist in environmental assessment and education, also invests in the search for alternatives to the management of mining waste in the territory. One of the proposals of the career civil servant is to give new destination to the waste. Check in this interview the actions performed by him.
What are the main challenges ahead of your public office?
The first is the modernization of environmental services provided by the secretariat, above all environmental licensing. The second is the recovery of the Doce river basin, after the disaster in Mariana. We are also facing the water crisis, especially this year when the World Water Forum was held in Brazil for the first time. For each challenge we already have actions and results.
How is the situation of the Doce river after the dam rupture?
We started to monitor water quality of the whole basin. In relation to quality indices, all are within the normal range. More adverse rainfall removes tailings, and one or another parameter may be non-standard, but soon return to normal. The basin is the most monitored in Brazil. We need to improve its basic sanitation as a compensatory action. Historically, sewage was already dumped there.
Are these actions already being performed?
Urban sewage is the responsibility of municipal bodies. We have just released almost R$ 500 million to the municipalities. We are at a crucial moment, which is the approval of sanitation projects and the start of their execution by local governments, but the money has already been released. We also have forestry recovery actions in the areas of permanent preservation, riparian forests, springs, work with farmers and cattle breeders for the rational use of the soil. Another challenge is to find a solution for tailings that remain in the environment. There are technical studies pointing out that, in certain locations, the impact of tailings removal is greater than their permanence. In other areas, they should be removed. But not just remove them. There must be an adequate structure to place tailings.
Is there an anticipation of when the environmental license will be granted for the construction of the new district of Bento Rodrigues?
By the end of June. Thereby, Renova Foundation begins the works of the community, where affected people will be relocated.
Have you been following the attempt to resume Samarco operations?
The company requested licensing for a solution for waste disposal at Alegria Sul pit, which already exists. The permit was approved in December 2017, and they can make the preparation of the area. This construction work takes six to seven months to get ready. Despite having the license in hand, the company has not yet started construction. There is also another process that is authorization of corrective operation of the Complex of Germano, which is under analysis in the secretariat and will be completed when they file the request for operation of the pit. After that process there may be a global resumption of activities.
In a scenario of economic crisis, has any point at Semad been hampered?
We need to work more on development measures and funding projects such as those from civil society, indicated by the basin committees. Initiatives that propose actions to recover water quality, water production or improvement of sanitation.
Minas Gerais had the lowest rate of deforestation in the Atlantic Forest in 32 years. It has reduced 58%, but is only behind Bahia on the list of states that most degrade. What to do to avoid this scenario?
Minas is the state that has the largest number of remnants of the Atlantic forest, 47% of our territory is from this biome. As a consequence, we have the largest deforestation. We took some action. First, that the compensation should be twice the deforested area, to recover the territory. We also monitor forest cover to identify illegal logging. We also have a greater efficiency of the inspection with intelligence actions and we work with preventive supervision, guiding the people before drawing up a written charge.
The state has at least 75 cities in a state of emergency due to the drought. What is the support given to such municipalities?
We have set up a monitoring committee for the water crisis, made up of some public bodies and civil society, to increase forest cover precisely in the critical areas of these municipalities. We also have the program Plantando o Futuro [Planting the Future], which is to recover degraded areas, planting new forests where we have a problem of lack of water. We also need to structure and support the state basin committees so that they can assist us in projects to improve the quality of water resources. In these areas where we know that there is a water conflict, where demand is greater than supply, we monitor springs to prevent irregular use and for water to reach municipalities. Thereby, we will be able to move forward in facing the water crisis.
Soon we will be in the forest fire season. What are the preventive measures taken to avoid devastation?
The success or failure of a fire season is due to climate scenario. Therefore, it is important to always be prepared. We have just hired 253 fire brigade members to deal with this dry period, which runs from July to November. They add up to civil servants of the conservation units that provide occasional support. In addition, we have registered volunteers, ten airplanes, six helicopters, and we are buying six more fire trucks, 220 blowers, 40 motor pumps and one hundred brush cutters.
How has the secretariat reconciled the preservation of the environment with economic exploitation by mining?
Mining is a very important sector for Minas, but there is no more space for polluting and degrading companies. It is increasingly true that future mining is one that has natural trends for sustainability. We have been to the Netherlands to ensure that mining companies have the most modern dam safety technologies. Public authorities have to encourage alternative technologies to dispose of tailings. We have also been to China where iron content of the ore is very low and they produce a lot of tailings. So, they had to think about alternatives to dam formation and made great strides in the use of civil construction products such as bricks, concrete blocks, asphalt and cement made from mining tailings. There, we came across a very positive scenario to be implemented in Minas, which is the union of mining and civil construction. All sectors were interested in this change of position.
But is there an expectation that this technology will be implemented soon?
There is, but first we need that technical standards are adapted to give us safety in the use of the bricks in civil construction. China has even changed 15% of the waste to the product, which is still little. As our ore iron content is much higher than China’s, I believe we could achieve much more than this percentage in about ten years.