Open letter to the Romanian Minister of the Environment

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Open letter to the Romanian Minister of the Environment

14. October 2014

Dear Minister Korodi Attila

Alburnus Maior and the Mining Watch Romania network express their deep concern regarding your statement that: "We have agreed, in principle, that Romania and Canada will identify ways to exchange information on the procedures for environmental impact assessment, in the case of large mining projects".

These bilateral agreements between Romanian and Canadian environmental authorities come in the context of ongoing approval procedures for three mining projects owned by Canadian companies in Romania: Certej, Baita Craciunesti and Rosia Montana. Each of these projects are submitted to an environmental assessment procedure, some of which are contested in court:

            - Certej: in 2013 the Ministry for the Environment challenged in court the environmental permit issued by the regional environmental agency; later the ministry abandoned the law suit; in November last year the Hunedoara Environment Protection Agency decided to revise the permit, a decision that is now challenged in court by the members of the Mining Watch Romania network.

            - Baita Craciunesti: On July 7, 2014 the Hunedoara EPA issued a decision to subject the mining project to the environmental impact assessment procedure, although the mine is located entirely within a Natura 2000 site.

            - Rosia Montana: the Environmental Impact Assessment procedure began in 2004 and is still not completed to this day. The whole procedure was marked by controversy, in all its stages.

Raphael Girard, the Canadian Ambassador in Romania stated in 2005 at a presentation held for the Gabriel Resources investors that "the Canadian government supports through all its powers the mining project and in addition to this, Canadian embassies in Brussels and Budapest lobby and do all that is necessary to help the project happen"[1]. Other lobbying activities by Canadian officials followed in support of Canadian mining companies active in Romania. These included an e-mail exchange between former ambassador Girard and other Canadian officials in 2006. At that time, Girard feared that political tensions in Romania "would push back" and create the need "to educate / prepare a whole new group of public officials and political figures" or "The result is that we lose very valuable time". He wrote in his correspondence that all these considerations were communicated to him by Alan Hill, the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation director.

As recently as March 2013, the press noted that "the Canadian Embassy closely follows the development of the mining projects in Certej and Rosia Montana"[2]. Participating in a seminar on 'responsible mining', Philippe Beaulne, the current Canadian ambassador said that "we are in permanent contact with our investors and we hope this deadlock will be resolved in the near future", referring to the Certej mining project.

Canadian Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that in this field of work Canada undergoes complex evaluation procedures, expressing openness to a bilateral exchange of expertize within the environmental agencies, targeting procedures in the evaluation of mining projects[3]. Nevertheless, more than 50 NGOs in Canada say the contrary and launched an information campaign called Save Canada's Environmental Laws explaining the downsize of these legislative changes.

The Canadian government systematically deregulated the environmental legislation. In 2012, environmental organizations accused the unprecedented attack on nature and democracy by adopting a package of laws that led to the repeal of numerous laws[4]. These included weakening the protection regime of fish habitats and more than 99% of lakes and rivers in Canada are set to accommodate extractive projects. Furthermore the environmental assessment procedure was changed by a new adopted law, which provided much reduced standards. In this way, over 3000 proceedings of environmental impact assessment that were in progress were halted and consequently, the consultation of local communities has been terminated. Deregulation continued in 2013, when it stopped requiring environmental assessments of certain projects related to in-situ oil sands mining.

The deregulation was challenged by organizations of the First Nations in an open letter to the Canadian Prime Minister stating that the new legislative changes further demonstrate a pattern of neglect by the federal government that puts the health and safety of Canadians at risk[5]. The leader of the indigenous groups, Stewart Phillip, terrified of measures taken by the government declared: "Bill C-38 completely gutted the environmental agreement procedure. Went even in part so as to reduce federal responsibility from 3300 to rivers, lakes, and streams less than 100".

Given that there is evidence that in the past, the Canadian government representatives were directly involved in supporting Canadian mining companies' investment in our country, we believe, Minister, that you have a greater responsibility in what concerns the future management of this information exchange mechanism. Therefore we call on you to provide the necessary guarantees to the public in Romania that this mechanism will not be a lobby tool for state officials loyal to Canadian mining companies operating in Romania. Moreover, we demand an objective and technical exchange of information aimed at improving environmental decisions to be taken by the Romanian authorities on large scale mining projects. Based on these goals, and in the spirit of transparency governing the operations of any public authority, local or central, we urge you to:

- Inform the public, as soon as possible, on the agreed mechanism communicating which authorities will represent the Romanian side, who will conduct the bilateral discussions, what are the concrete objectives of the information exchange;

- Establish a public register in which any concerned citizen may view the agenda and minutes of the meetings that took place;

- Create for the public in Romania of reasonable opportunities to be informed, through their representatives, on the information exchange, meaning the possibility for observers and representatives of environmental NGOs in Romania to participate at the talks.

Yours sincerely,

Eugen David
President of Alburnus Maior Association

Dan Mercea
Mining Watch Romania network