A new bill currently before the Brazilian Congress will create far greater flexibility regarding existing rules for environmental permits. The new bill if it is passed will reduce social participation and weaken access to public information at a time when environmental protections are needed more than ever.
The bill proposes to end mandatory public hearings during the preparation of environmental impact studies. These are currently provided for under Brazilian law in situations where business interests have the potential to degrade the environment.
For Paula Martins, Director of ARTICLE 19 Brazil, Bill 3729/2004 has the potential to make transparency in environmental issues far more difficult to realise.
“Public hearings are important for promoting social participation and access to information. In the case of enterprises that have significant socio-environmental impact, the hearings are even more relevant because of the possible damage that may occur not only to the environment but also to the lives of affected communities”, says Martins.
The bill has been presented by deputy Mauro Pereira and poses serious risks to the environment if it is approved. One of the aspects of the bill that concerns ARTICLE 19 is that it intends, among other things, to make exemptions for specific polluting activities and also allow environmental permits to be validated without the supervision of the public agencies responsible.
“Individuals and communities have the right to know about the consequences of business activities of any kind when such activities affect their lives”, states Martins. “Only then will communities be able to exercise their rights, and demand reparation and compensation for violations”, she adds.
In response to the initiative in Congress, more than 100 Brazilian civil society organisations signed a public statement rejecting the project.
ARTICLE 19 calls on Brazilian congressmen and congresswomen to reject any attempts to create greater flexibility in existing legislation that protects the environment. To do so is not only a regressive step on environmental and social protections but also creates an additional barrier to the fulfillment of the country’s international human rights obligations.