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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Romania

Article 35 of Romania’s constitution contains measures to protect the environment. It reads:

  • The State recognizes the right of every person to a healthy, well-preserved and balanced environment
  • The State shall provide the legislative framework for the exercise of such right
  • Natural and legal persons have a duty to protect and improve the environment
  • Featured Legislation

    1990: Law No. 17/1990 (regarding the legal treatment of internal sea going waters, territorial sea and contiguous areas) was passed. The Act provides for the definition and delimitation of the territorial sea and internal waters (Chapt. I), and the Contiguous Zone of Romenia (chapt. II). Other chapters deal with: Innocent passage (III), right of hot pursuit beyond the territorial sea (IV), scientific research in the territorial sea (V), Protection of the marine environment (VI), penalties (VII), final provisions (VIII). The territorial sea includes the zone of the sea adjacent to the coast or, where applicable, the internal waters, having a width of 12 nautical miles measured from the baselines.

    1995: Law No. 137/1995 (on environmental protection) was instituted. The object of this law is to regulate environmental protection, which is considered as an objective of major public interest, on the basis of the principles and strategic elements listed below.

    The principle of precaution in decision-making

    The principle of prevention of ecological risks and damage occurrence

    Principle of conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem specific to the natural biogeographical structure

    The “Polluter-pays" principle

    The removal on a priority basis of the pollutants that directly and severely jeopardize public health

    Setting up of the integrated national environmental monitoring system

    Sustainable use

    Maintenance, improvement of environmental quality and reconstruction of damaged areas

    Setting up a framework for the participation of non-governmental organizations and of the population in the decision-making and implementation

    1996: The Waters Law (No. 107) was ratified. This Law provides the general framework for the exploitation of water resources and is divided into the following Chapters: General provisions (1); Waters and river beds’ use regime (2); Water management (3); Inspection of water management activity (4); Water economic mechanism (5); Penalties (6); Transitory and final provisions (7).

    1996: Law No. 103/1996 (regarding the protection of hunting grounds) was established. This Law governs the regime of hunting for wild animals and game in Romania. It is structured in the following manner: General provisions (Chap.1); Administration and management of Romania’s hunting fund (Chap. 2); Game protection (Chap. 3); The exercise of hunting (Chap. 4); Responsibilities and sanctions (Chap. 5); Transitory and final provisions (Chap. 6).

    2009: The National Plan (for the protection of groundwater against pollution and damage) was promulgated. This Romanian national Plan has the purpose to establish several specific measures necessary for the prevention and control of groundwater pollution, in order to achieve the water protection objectives identified in national legislation.

    2010: Law no. 100 (on afforestation of degraded lands) was signed. This Law provides the rules and terms as regards degraded lands present on the territory of Romania, regardless of their form of ownership. Degraded lands can be restored and improved by afforestation works, in order to protect the soil, to restore the hydrological balance and to improve overall environmental conditions. The object of this Law is the afforestation of degraded lands, as defined in point 48 of the Annex to Law no. 46/2008-Romania Forestry Code.

    2015: The National Strategy and National Plan for the management of contaminated sites in Romania was approved. This National Strategy and National Plan aims to provide an overview of the measures to be taken to investigate the pollution-affected land and surrounding areas and to decide whether it is a “contaminated site", as well as how corrective action will be regulated and validation of the remedied land to protect the receivers. In order to gain experience, the strategy starts from the internationally recognized risk-based approach that must be implemented as such. Over time, additional information and more experience will be accumulated and then translated into an adapted strategy. The purpose of this strategy is to set out the principles for the management of contaminated sites by 2015, defined as a short term, to solve the problem of contaminated sites requiring urgent action by 2020, defined as a medium term, and to complete the action by 2050.

    Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • In October 2021, 3 men were attacked while trying to track down environmental crimes in the forests of Romania. Those who led the attack were the   so-called “wood mafia,” a criminal group that has been ravaging Romania’s forests for decades. In 2019, data from a  10-year government report concluded that every year, 38 million cubic meters of wood are extracted from the country’s forests, fuelling the black market for illegally exported timber. Since the fall of communism in 1989, foreign timber companies have been exploiting Romania’s forests and timber resources – HS Timber, formerly known as Austrian Holzindustrie Schweighofer, which has  supplied wood to major European companies, including Ikea – for example. The Environmental Investigation Agency released a  report that revealed the existence of covert video recordings of a Schweighofer official admitting to buying illegal wood, and offering  bonuses for suppliers of illicit timber. The rise of the “wood mafia" accelerated when Romania joined the EU, and has been facilitated by Romania’s corrupt government officials, which have a reputation for  corruption. Activists suggest that organized crime is at the heart of the illegal logging crisis in Romania, and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a transatlantic nonprofit dedicated to exposing the actors behind environmental crimes, is working with the European Commission (EC) to initiate legal proceedings against Romania over its chronic failure to tackle the problem. The EIA estimates that as much as 336,000 hectares was lost between 2001 and 2018: An area around the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Shortly after the EC’s legal proceeding, opposition party Save Romania Union proposed legislation to establish a unit within the National Anti-Corruption Directorate to combat the culture of graft and criminality that facilitates the destruction of the country’s natural resources. Environmentalists are hopeful that the proposal represents an important step toward improving Romania’s record on illegal logging. Another recent proposal by Save Romania Union is to establish an environmental unit within the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, DNA, which would bring together police officers and specialists in technology, waste management, industrial emissions and, crucially, forestry.

    References and Further Reading

    Contacts

    Ministry of Environment: Marisanda Pîrîianu, marisanda.piriianu@mmediu.ro