Bill was passed in 2021 by Chamber of Deputies, will be considered by senators
Tereza Cristina — Foto: Dênio Simões/Valor
The government is trying to buy time and negotiate changes to the text of the environmental permit bill that is making its way through
Senate. The rapporteur in the Agriculture Committee, Senator Tereza Cristina, is expected to present her opinion in the coming days. She said she is open to dialogue, but without committing to any changes to the text passed by the Chamber of Deputies in 2021.
“I will present my report as soon as possible, but I still want to talk to the government first,” said Ms. Tereza, who was Agriculture minister under former President Jair Bolsonaro and is the main political leader of the agribusiness sector in recent years. “I want the bill to be voted on and passed by the Senate this semester.”
Any change would mean the return of the matter to Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, or Lower House, and the rural caucus in the Senate is in a hurry to advance this month in three bills simultaneously. The one that is at a more advanced stage establishes the schedule for the demarcation of indigenous lands, which is in the Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ), reported by Senator Marcos Rogério and may be affected by the trial of the issue in the Federal Supreme Court, which will resume on Wednesday. Another bill is about regulating the use of pesticides, under the report of Fabiano Contarato. A block negotiation is likely to take place on all three proposals.
The environmental permit bill creates a national policy framework for the sector. It has a clear bias towards loosening controls in order to speed up projects of all kinds. It has broad support from the business community.
The proposal creates a list of 13 activities for which an environmental permit is not necessary, promotes self-declaration licensing, delegates to states and municipalities the definition of the rules for measuring the environmental impact of a project, allows for the summary renewal of expired permits, limits the imposition of conditions on a company to mitigate its impact, opens the possibility of an amnesty, and reduces the influence of indigenous and quilombola (descendants of escaped slaves) communities in the granting of permits. The proposal also establishes maximum time limits for the granting of a permit and removes the legal responsibility of project financiers for any environmental damage caused by the projects.
The government’s main concern is the rules for self-licensing. This modality is used in Brazil in 10 states for low-impact and low-risk projects. The bill delegates the definition of these criteria to the states and municipalities. The government fears that this provision will open the way to an “environmental war” in which states try to attract investment by offering fewer controls.
Other points of the bill, however, divide the government itself, which wants to postpone the examination of the subject in order to try to reconcile internal positions. One example is the issue of mining. Part of the government does not want to relax the rules for mining permits from what they are today.
Environmental groups acknowledge that the Senate is leaning toward passing the proposal. “It is not realistic to reject the bill,” said Suely Araújo, former president of Brazil’s environmental protection agency Ibama and an expert with the NGO Observatório do Clima. The activists’ goal is to push for changes that will send the proposal back to the Lower House for consideration.
The agricultural sector, one of the biggest proponents of changes to the environmental licensing process, does not want any changes to the text approved in the Lower House. But the rapporteur said that other segments of the economy, such as infrastructure, want even more flexibility. Ms. Cristina believes that it is possible not only to keep the draft proposed for self-licensing, but also to extend it to more sectors.
The project on environmental licensing is still making its way in the Environment Committee, with Senator Confucius Moura as rapporteur.
*Por César Felício, Cristiano Zaia — Brasília
Source: Valor International