Activists demand EU halts 'green' funds for Spain ski resort

MADRID (AP) — Spanish environmental groups on Monday called on the European Union to open an inquiry into the approval of 26.4 million euros ($28.1 million) of “green” economic recovery funds to join two ski resorts in the rapidly warming Pyrenees mountain range.

Five Spanish groups sent a delegation to Brussels for meetings this week with European Union lawmakers and officials to urge greater scrutiny of a project they say will cause irreversible damage to the glacial valley of Canal Roya in the Aragon region.

The EU’s 724 billion-euro ($763-billion) COVID-19 recovery program is supposed to support member states to “build a greener, more digital and more resilient future," with stringent rules on impacting biodiversity, water use and carbon emissions.

The activists argue the union of the resorts of Astún-Candanchú and Formigal with an 8-kilometer-long cable car link violates these conditions. The plan was approved by Spain’s tourism ministry in December.

“This is a space of enormous environmental quality, and serves as a green corridor for the passage of animal populations such as the bearded vulture or other flora and fauna characteristic of the area,” said Marina Gros, spokesperson for Ecologists in Action.

Gros criticized the “opacity” of the Aragon regional government in its management of pandemic recovery funds, and alleged hypocrisy on the part of Spain's central government for approving the project, given its recent trumpeting of its green credentials.

“These funds supposedly for sustainable tourism are being dedicated more than 80% to only four projects (in Aragon) based on snow-based tourism,” she said. After trying and failing to stop the project domestically, Ecologists in Action have joined with groups including Greenpeace and WWF to tackle the issue in Brussels.

A petition to stop the cable car project from going ahead has so far garnered almost 50,000 signatures, making it one of the most popular on the website.

Critics argue that skiing is neither financially nor environmentally sustainable in the rapidly warming mountain range. Many resorts draw water from nearby streams or reservoirs and typically use compressed air and electricity to blow snow into piles on the slopes when it’s cold.

Spanish scientists said in 2021 that the Pyrenees’ glaciers will likely be reduced to ice patches in the next two decades due to climate change. The mountains have suffered a higher-than-average 1.5-degree-Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) overall temperature increase since the 19th century.

Spain was one of the first EU countries to apply for and receive funds from the EU pandemic recovery fund, and stands to be among its main beneficiaries. It is set to receive a total of 140 billion euros, half in direct transfers, half in loans.

The European Court of Auditors warned this month of insufficient checks and safeguards on how EU member countries spend the 724 billion euros ($763 billion) of pandemic recovery funds. A visiting EU Parliament delegation urged the Madrid government in February to be more transparent and flexible in its use of the funds and in providing public information about them.