In a file launched by Bankwatch in 2014, a Romanian court annulled [ro] 27 deforestation permits last week, preventing 22 hectares of forest in the country’s south-west to be cut for the expansion of an open-pit coal mine.
All 27 decisions were issued in 2012 by a regional forestry agency for the Oltenia Energy Complex to extend lignite mining operations in Rosia quarry (located near Rovinari, Gorj County). This court decision comes six months after the Bucharest Court stopped the clearing of another 59 hectares of forest by cancelling the environmental permit for deforestation in the Tismana quarry area (also located near Rovinari).
The Forest Code stipulates that the regional forestry agency can issue deforestation permits in the case of small areas, under one hectare, while a Government Decision is required for perimeters larger than 10 hectares. The Oltenia Energy Complex uses a practice of slicing the total area it needs to destroy into fragments of up to one hectare, enough for a few weeks of mining operations. Thus it avoids going through a procedure to identify the social and environmental impact of mining expansions and the measures to reduce it.
With this handy legislative loophole, the Oltenia Energy Complex can ask the forestry agency to issue deforestation permits for tiny areas compared to the scale of the work that it does. The 22 hectares of forest that have now been saved represent the approximate area of 44 football fields.
Bankwatch Romania initiated the court case in February 2014. Eight similar law suits are pending, concerning forests around nine lignite open pits. We estimate that the Oltenia Energy Complex obtained at least 49 deforestation decisions for at least 200 hectares near the Rosia quarry, in 2014 alone. As defendants, the forestry agency and the Oltenia Complex can appeal the court decision within fifteen days of its notification. So far, the court’s decision was not formally transmitted to the parties.
The attorney who represented Bankwatch Romania in court commented:
“The court’s decision in this case is not surprising. It comes after the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure in this case last month [ro] and after an illegally issued environmental permit for cutting of over 59 hectares of forest was cancelled in the first instance last summer [ro]. We believe that the Oltenia Energy Complex must begin to implement environmental legislation that is currently in force for lignite extraction and it has to understand that mining expansions must be done according to the principle of sustainable development.”
In the last 25 years, in addition to forests, expanding lignite pits wiped out at least three villages and many others suffer from the proximity to the pits. Mihai Stoica, a freelance photo journalist, traveled to the affected areas and made a video about the impact of the lignite quarries. The documentary “When mines expand…” captures people’s problems in three villages bordering lignite pits that are affected by their expansion.
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