The fire at a hazardous waste plant in Chiloeches (Guadalajara) in August 2016 has claimed a new political victim, or at least that is how it is perceived by the Ministry of Sustainable Development of Castilla-La Mancha. The current Head of the Prevention and Environmental Impact Service, José María Michelena, accused in the judicial process for this incident along with other former senior officials of the regional government, has resigned, as elDiarioclm.es has learned. In his case, the Prosecutor’s Office asks for two years in prison for environmental prevarication and his testimony was one of the key pieces in the macro-trial held at the Provincial Court between September and December 2021, which is pending sentencing.
Public officials who only sign, technicians who decide everything and other defenses in the Chiloeches macro-trial
Michelena was head of the Industrial Environment Service in 2011 (with the Government of María Dolores de Cospedal) and, successively, in the two governments of Emiliano García-Page, Head of the Prevention and Environmental Impact Service until today. Sources close to his department confirm that since his indictment, there has been “pressure” for Michelena to leave her post.
During the trial, part of the testimony before the prosecutor focused on the request for information from the management company of the waste plant due to its urban planning incompatibility. Asked if none of his predecessors informed him, when he took office in 2011, that this plant did not have a “philosophy of compliance” with the regulations, he replied that no one told him about it, but that “everything was done in accordance with the services legal”.
Likewise, it denied that it was aware of its breaches because it was not part of its powers, stating that it was the City Council that had the power to close the plant. He insisted on several occasions that there is an integrated environmental authorization (that of April 2018, with which two former senior officials contradicted themselves on the first day of statements) the company needed municipal licenses to operate.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office asked him for an assessment of whether he considered that there was an “eagerness to make it easier for the company” to operate a potentially polluting industry without paying attention to prevention, because “everything is very lax and they gave it a new opportunity with a new requirement of information”. Michelena said she did not appreciate that “laxity” and stressed that her skills are to coordinate a team that in turn analyzes the files. “Since we took care of the specific file, we acted with common sense and in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Law.”
Responsibility of the technicians
Similarly, regarding the fact that the Layna Group already exploited 90% of the plant in October 2015, he said he had no record of it because “it did not appear in the file”; and like other imputed former senior officials, he has blamed the technicians for being the ones who made the decisions. “I did not review that file in detail, my participation in this is to authorize the work that the technician prepares.”
Regarding the file that the then Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment initiated asking to sanction the company in October 2013, it has said that it was not aware of it until March 2016 and that it did not suspend waste management at the plant because “neither I neither allow nor allow nor allow”.
Michelena is the second current political position that resigns as a result of the accusations for the Chiloeches fire. Shortly after the incident, the then Deputy Minister of the Environment, Sergio David González Ejido, also charged in the case, did so, although at that time he alleged personal reasons. The trial was seen for sentencing on December 17 after three months of duration and the declaration of all the accused and witnesses. The Prosecutor’s Office maintained the sentences requested for all those investigated.