On April 30, 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) published a Decision on Romania’s condemnation for non-compliance with Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on air quality and cleaner air for Europe. Romania has been tried for failing to meet its obligations regarding air quality and for systematically exceeding the limit values for microparticles (PM10) in Bucharest.
Following the Court’s decision, the Minister of Environment, Water Resources and Forests, Costel Alexe, requested the City Hall of Bucharest to draw up an emergency plan to reduce pollution. According to him, these measures should have been expedited in order not to trigger a new infringement procedure by the European Commission, which could cost Romania a minimum amount of 1.6 million euros, with penalties ranging from 2,000 to 120,000 euros per day. The Minister also stated that the institution he leads had sent seven warnings to the City Hall of Bucharest, but none of them were followed by any measures to reduce pollution.
We are checking if the City Hall of Bucharest took measures to reduce excessive pollution in the city during the state of emergency and if the seven warnings issued by the Ministry of the Environment, Water Resources and Forests are real.
Commenting on the Court’s decision, which also includes four other Romanian cities, Costel Alexe stated that: “The case of Bucharest is by far the worst. The capital city already has a conviction by the European Court of Justice for exceeding PM10 values. We have officially asked the General City Hall to send us a short-term emergency plan as soon as possible, with measures capable of filing the Court’s verdict. So far, we have not received any answer, although any delay may cost Romania a new infringement procedure for PM10 values, this time with sanctions.” He also added that “During all this period, we sent no less than seven warnings to the General City Hall for these overruns and none was followed by any measure to reduce and eliminate PM10 pollution in Bucharest.”
Bucharest has an integrated air quality plan (PICA) for 2018-2022. The plan has a total of 20 measures, which can be found on pages 110-132. Within the measures, concrete projects were established with achievement indicators that ensure the fulfillment of the measures that were structured in various categories.
Among the measures listed in this program, we can mention: modernization of transport infrastructure, renewal of the public transportation company’s car park, operation of new tram lines, construction of passages and bridges, underground lines, parking spaces, bike lanes, planting trees and vegetation and daily or annual green space maintenance. It would also provide for measures to improve public transport in the center of Bucharest, expand the green space, as well as street sanitation.
On April 30, 2020, the General City Hall of Bucharest issued a press release on the Court’s decision. The mayor’s office informs that: “The period for which the Court of Justice of the European Union condemned Romania – for the pollution in Bucharest – was generated by the non-observance of the air quality conditions imposed by the European legislation in a period prior to the current mandate (seven years of non-compliance respectively 2007-2014, when the general mayors were Adriean Videanu and Sorin Oprescu).”
The General Mayor, Gabriela Firea states: “The pollution in the Capital did not appear in 2016, it has been a topic ignored by all the authorities for over 20 years! Aware of the seriousness of this problem, we focused our efforts on implementing effective measures to reduce pollution in the Romanian capital. I want to emphasize that PICA does not only mean the City Hall but actually sums up the joint effort of all those responsible for urban traffic, increasing energy efficiency, eliminating pollution sources generated by construction activities, and improving the quality of green spaces in the Capital. This means both the local authorities and the Government, through the line ministries!”
LAW no. 104, of June 15 2011 on ambient air quality, established several responsibilities for mayors in this field. According to the law, the mayor is the one in charge of fulfilling the air quality plan, but other authorities should also control and ensure the implementation of measures.
General Mayor, Gabriela Firea, also explained that the measures provided in PICA cannot be denied, as their results can be seen daily in Bucharest: “For the first time in recent decades, we have allocated millions of euros for the modernization of public transport: new buses, Euro 6, we are buying hybrid buses, electric buses, and new trams!”
On March 29, the General Mayor also blew the whistle on possible illegal black oil furnacing around Bucharest that could be one of the causes behind excessive air pollution.
Costel Alexe’s statement is uncheckable. Apart from the press release of the City Hall related to the Court’s schedule, dated April 29, 2020, we were not able to find information about any measures taken by the institution during the state of emergency.
Out of the seven warnings that Costel Alexe claimed were issued by the Ministry of the Environment, Water Resources and Forests, only three could be traced: the first was issued on March 18, the second on March 21 and the third one on March 24. Although they imply the activity of the Ministry, not all of them can be seen as official warnings sent to the General City Hall of Bucharest.
Indeed, the City Hall did not come up with an emergency plan to reduce pollution. But this measure is not the sole responsibility of the aforementioned institution. There are other authorities that should monitor and ensure the implementation of the measures. The General City Hall of Bucharest is not the only one to blame in this situation.
Regarding PICA, even if the City Hall of Bucharest managed to approve a four-year plan for improving air quality in the city, which was to be applicable, it was not able to implement most of its measures until now. Although the Minister of Environment asked the Bucharest City Hall for a short-term emergency plan for this period, it was not implemented. The General City Hall did not come up with concrete solutions to reduce pollution in the Capital in the short term.
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