Funds Sources: RUF Funds
Project Name: Local communities at the heart of environmental justice
Community Partner: Asociatia Bankwatch (Profile | Website)
Starting Date: August 2022
Project Status: Finished
Total Project Budget: $74,000
Financed by RUF: $74,000
Defending the environment in court has never been more needed in Romania than today. Aggressions against rivers, forests, and habitats by (mostly) energy infrastructure developers are becoming more frequent and with stronger political backing, while their frontline defenders - local communities, NGOs, and environmental lawyers - remain a handful.
Bankwatch Romania is hosting the country’s first environmental law clinic until March 2024. By then, the goal is that some of the currently 15 participants in the clinic (law students, young lawyers) or new participants will become environmental law practitioners. They are currently coordinated and involved in a couple of cases by Bankwatch’s in-house lawyer, with over 15 years of experience in strategic environmental litigation.
For years, we witnessed how European Directives are transposed into national legislation with intentional loopholes; how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refuses to release information on big polluters' activity or how it grants operating permits to projects whose environmental impact has not been assessed; or how the Environmental Guard remains blind to environmental aggressions that take place outside of working hours.
To learn how to build strategic litigation cases on environmental matters, the Law Clinic works with specific cases signaled by affected communities, such as the permitting of the limestone quarry in Pestisani, Gorj county. The presence of local resistance on the ground is crucial in any environmental case, not only because it gives it moral authority but also because we can
know in real-time what is going on, even when the EPA withholds information.
The set up of Valea Bistritei NGO in Pestisani to contribute to the local community’s well being and to protect the natural and cultural heritage locally is a great example of civic engagement, which Bankwatch aims to support.
This project will not only build Valea Bistritei’s capacity to navigate in environmental processes with Bankwatch’s guidance - access to information, participation in public consultations, access to justice, assessment of environmental factors etc. - but it will also support the young lawyers enrolled in the Law Clinic to grow their expertise and expand the number of cases they work on, by liaising with affected communities and collecting the evidence first hand.
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