In December 2015 Bankwatch Romania received a special Christmas present when the Bucharest Tribunal decreed the final and irrevocable annulment [ro] of 27 deforestation decisions for 22 forest hectares in Gorj County. The case was brought by Bankwatch Romania against Oltenia Energy Complex (OEC) and the Forestry Guard Rȃmnicu Vȃlcea whose appeal has now ultimately been revoked, thus halting deforestations for the expansion of the Roșia coal mine.
According to the Forestry Law, only a decision from the Forestry Guard is needed if one intends to cut down a surface smaller than one hectare, but if the forest is bigger than 10 hectares a Government Decree is mandatory. Oltenia Energy Complex (OEC) attempted to avoid this law, slicing the land on which it intends to expand the Roșia lignite mine in parcels smaller than one hectare, thus obtaining 27 decisions for 22 hectares.
Therefore, OEC skipped a procedure through which it would have been mandated to study the environmental and social impact. But the company ignored the fact that the planned deforestations for the expansion of Roșia mine are actually much bigger, with an environmental permit for 159 hectares also being annulled at the beginning of last month.
The final decision of Bucharest Tribunal came in the same month in which FERN, an European NGO for forest protection, published the study Double Jeopardy: Coal’s Threat to Forests (pdf). The authors show that at least 11.9 millions of forest lands, an area bigger than Portugal, are threatened due to coal exploitation. In Australia alone 1.3 million hectares are scheduled to be cut down which could lead to the disappearance of endangered species or surface waters. Indonesia intends to cut down 8.6 million hectares, or 9% of the country’s forests, with a devastating impact on indigenous populations.
The FERN Report also contains a case study on Romania, in which a clear disjunction emerges between folk wisdom, such as “Romanians are brothers to the forest”, and the fact that massive deforestations, a significant part illegal, have become habitual.
Local communities either don’t have the capacity to oppose mine expansion projects or are deluded by the jobs promised by OEC (even though the company employed half as many people [ro] starting with 2012 compared to 2009-2012). Severin Sperlea from the Runcurelu village expressed his regret this way:
“There used to be forests in this area. We had beautiful forests. Lands were full of trees: apple trees, pear trees, plum trees, cherry trees, vineyards. You always found some fruit to eat when you went to work in the field. Now they’ve gone because the mines have come.”
With this last decision in 2015, Bankwatch Romania could celebrate the saving of 391 hectares of forest through the annulment of deforestation decisions or environmental permits. Apart from the 27 deforestation decisions which allowed cutting down 22 hectares and the environmental permit for 159 hectares being annulled on December 7, two other environment permits for the expansion of the Pinoasa mine affecting 130 and 80 hectares were annulled on 17 February [ro] and 14 May [ro] respectively.
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