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INTERVIEW with Laszlo Potozky (Environmental Partnership Foundation): environmental issues are the last taken into account in the governmental programs 2014-06-05  

Forest deforestation, the Roșia Montana project or environmental stress due to green investments are just some problems faced by our country, which are related to the intention to use natural resources in unsustainable ways said, in an interview with AGERPRES, the director of the Environmental Partnership Foundation - Miercurea Ciuc, Laszlo Potozky, with the occasion of the World Environment Day.

This draw the attention to the fact that environment and its protection are important for authorities, often, only on declarative level and many of the environmental problems in Romania would have been solved if the European funds absorption rate would have been higher. The Environmental Partnership Foundation from Miercurea Ciuc is one of the largest grant-maker in Romania funding environmental projects and it aims to improve the environment and the development of communities in our country.

AGERPRES: seven years have passed since the accession of Romania to the European Union. Has the environmental situation improved in our country?

Laszlo Potozky: primarily, we can speak about the improvement of the environmental legislation due to its harmonization with the European Union's laws. This harmonization has led to some progress, for example in the field of urban ecology, waste management, wastewater collection and treatment, etc., but it is equally true that the simple harmonization does not automatically improve the environmental situation in general, because, as in other areas, the implementation of laws still suffers. This is also the cause of the infringement procedures on environmental issues started against Romania by the EU. Another aspect which ought to bring a significant improvement with respect to environmental protection is connected to the European funds for this sector. If we had good absorption, many of the environmental problems of Romania would be able to be solved by using the allocated 4,42 billion Euro. Seven years have passed and the absorption level within the POS Mediu, on 30 April 2014, was only 30,49%, one of the worst results of all the operational programs. It is a pity not to use these funds at maximum, because environmental protection requires significant allocations.

AGERPRES: what are the most serious problems that face Romania in this respect, the aggression on the environment?

Laszlo Potozky: there are several problems, the main one being the intention of use of natural resources in unsustainable ways. The most eloquent examples of this are well-known and dominate the public space for years. I am referring here to the issue of exploitation of shale gas and Roșia Montana. Both can be categorized with a potential environmental high risk and should be treated as such regarding the decision-making. More specifically, the decision should take account of public opinion, the opinion of civil society. No less important, continues to be the deforestation, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems we face. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been cut in the last two and a half decades and there has not taken any serious measures to stop the phenomenon. Unfortunately I don't see anything encouraging in this respect neither for the near future. It's enough to remember the multiple intents to change the Forest Code for the past two years, with provisions that would have led to the deterioration of the situation of the forests in Romania. In addition to these, paradoxically, we are witnessing some aggression on the environment also due to the investments in green energy. As an example I can mention the multitude of hydroelectric power plants built in recent years, including in the protected areas, many of them not following the rules and the environmental law, destroying nearly irreversible rivers, very valuable in terms of biodiversity.

AGERPRES:  is there a real concern of the authorities for environmental issues?

Laszlo Potozky: the environment and its protection are important only on declarative way, but factually, environmental issues are the last that are addressed and taken into account in government programs, no matter of political color of the successive Governments.(...) Another eloquent example in this respect is the Strategy of Sustainable Development of Romania that has existed for years, but not much is implemented. Economic interests, the magic of quick gains at all costs, prevail in the face of environmental considerations. To change this attitude of the decision-makers would need a concern and stronger pressure of society as a whole.

AGERPRES: What can you tell us about the environmental issues in Harghita County? To what issues should turn the authorities their attention?

Laszlo Potozky: I mention only two, which in my opinion would require much sever measures from the authorities in order to stop them: deforestation and the vegetation burning on arable land and on grassland. Both are widely practiced in our County and frequently reported by NGOs and the press, however, the measures taken to curb these phenomena are unfortunately quite anemic.

AGERPRES: you have been a proponent of stopping construction of hydroelectric power plants on the mountain rivers. What is the situation in this respect?

Laszlo Potozky:: We were and we are supporters of discontinuing those small hydro construction which are built in protected areas, and for the rest we require compliance with standards and with environmental legislation. Unfortunately, in the case of many rivers destruction have already taken place, others are in progress. The only promising fact related to this issue were consumed in January this year, when the Minister of Water and Forests of that time, Lucia Varga, has signed a protocol with the WWF, in which Romania pledged to suspend approval of hydropower stations to be developed in the protected areas and to elaborate a law to designate the areas where these investments cannot be made. Meanwhile, Mrs. Va rga resigned with the NLP's exit from the Government, now remains to see if those laid down in the protocol will be implemented.

AGERPRES: The construction in the neighboring County, Covasna, of a large lumber mill, by the Austrian Holzindustrie Schweighofer company has sparked the indignation of  the environmental organizations. What are the negative effects that this will have on the environment?

Laszlo Potozky: If we refer to the amount of timber to be processed within the factories, we can draw conclusions that it will surely increase the pressure, primarily on forestry funds of Covasna County, and of the surrounding counties. If we think that over the past 24 years the deforestation dangerously has grown in Covasna and Harghita forests, by simple logic we can deduce that this investment will amplify significantly this phenomenon and, as a result, the effects of environmental degradation caused by deforestation will be also amplified.

AGERPRES: You are concerned about the sustainable development, the establishment of social enterprises that use the profit for the benefit of local communities. Why have you oriented in this direction?

Laszlo Potozky: The program developed in partnership by the Romanian-American Foundation and the Environmental Partnership Foundation  proposes a model of sustainable development in areas with significant natural and cultural heritage, which operated in a responsible way, can bring major, long-term benefits to the local communities and for the implementing organizations. Otherwise, this inheritance based on customs, relationships and traditions will be lost due to the western model of development, or disappears if nature is exploited on a large scale. Specifically, the model is based on the establishment, by the NGOs active in areas such as environmental protection and community development, of several social enterprises which use the profits in the benefit of the local community, conservation of natural heritage, and cultural and economic development.

AGERPRES: The Environmental Partnership Foundation is one of the largest environmental grant-maker in Romania. Tell us about your most important programs and projects you are funding.

Laszlo Potozky: Currently we run/implement 6 funding programs:

the Green Spaces program offers grants for projects which propose the rehabilitation or creation of green spaces and environmental education activities among local communities, conducted by NGOs in cooperation with various institutions. So far we have funded over 225 of such projects; the Natural Protected Areas - seeks the promotion and popularization of protected areas in Romania in order to raise the acceptance level of these areas among the local communities through the involvement of NGOs and local communities, schools and managers of the protected areas. More than 150 such projects have been funded under the program.

The Swiss-Romanian Cooperation Program, in which our Foundation is responsible for the environmental component of the Thematic Fund for the Civil Society Participation and for the administration of environmental projects within the Thematic Fund Partnership and Expert Fund.

NGO Fund - part of the EEA Financial Mechanism 2009-2014 funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, (developed in partnership with the Civil Society Development Foundation and the Resource Center for Roma Communities) - our Foundation is administrating the sustainable development component worth over 4 million Euro. Community Foundations Program (developed in partnership with the Association for Community Relations and PACT Foundation): our Foundation has the leading role in providing funds for the establishment of community foundations. The number of community foundations established under this program has reached 12.

Green Entrepreneurship program - developed in partnership with the Romanian-American Foundation. Through this program we've created 7 green social enterprises in various areas of Romania

Agerpres - Gina Stefan - author, Adrian Dragut - editor

5th June 2014


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