ITATIBA, Brazil—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vetoed nine items on the provisional measure passed by the Congress to alter the new Forest Code.
The president was lauded by environmental groups for increasing environmental protections through her vetoes. The regulations fall short, however, of the protections in place in the original Forest Code of 1965.
For example, Congress wanted to require medium- to large-sized rural property owners to reforest their land near riverbanks to at least 16 yards. Rousseff vetoed this minimum, raising it to 21 yards. The original Forest Code had a requirement of 32 yards regardless of property size.
The agriculture sector in Brazil has long been lobbying authorities to reduce the restrictions.
Rousseff had already sent the new Forest Code, an environmental bill meant to protect the Amazon and other biomes in Brazil, back to Congress last May for changes after vetoing some items in the bill.
Announcing the government’s position on the new provisional measure, Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said recently that the government is basing its vetoes on three principles: Not encouraging illegal deforestation, not giving amnesty to those who violate the law, and ensuring social inclusion in rural areas when it comes to the rights of small land owners and family farmers.
The agriculture sector in Brazil has long been lobbying authorities to reduce restrictions in the Forest Code.
“The bill has 84 articles; what was vetoed was nine,” Teixeira said, adding that the vetoes were “surgical.”
Rousseff also vetoed the use of fruit tree monocultures to recover the permanent preservation areas (PPA) instead of native forests since the use of fruit trees “could not ensure the biological function of the PPA is fulfilled.”
The president also vetoed the change proposed by Congress to allow deforestation in certain regions of the country.
Controversy in Congress
Brazil’s congressional Agriculture Commission criticized the president’s vetoes, saying in a statement that the president “did not know how to value the exhaustive work done by the Congress.” The commission said that it will take a few days to evaluate what steps to take next.
Congressman Ronaldo Caiado, one of the main leaders of the Agriculture Commission, said the vetoes go against the consensus reached in Congress on the Forest Code. The president should not be basing decisions on the degree of recovery of native vegetation, he added.
According to Caiado, the president has the right to veto the bill, but her consistent overruling of the provisions passed by Congress in effect have “removed the national Congress.”
The president, however, has received support from other bases including the Green Party.
Congressman and leader of the Green Party Sarney Filho said in a press note on his website that the president’s vetoes “offer relevant environmental and social gains.”
Filho, who is also the leader of the congressional Environment Commission, said that the original motivation to change the Forest Code was to remove identified problems to enhance preservation of biomes, but the changes introduced by Congress go in the opposite direction. By vetoing some of the changes, the president is sending a message that conservation and environmental regulation policies should be given weight, he said.
“The laws loosened, but now, with these vetoes, the president signaled that the government will not give up the policy of preserving our environmental capital, biomes that belong to us,” he said.
Filho, however, criticized the vetoes for not being “more comprehensive” to protect the environment.
Congress started amending the Forest Code three years ago. Rousseff finally approved the new code last May, while vetoing some lines, asking Congress to provide another provisional measure considering her vetoes. The vetoes announced last week apply to the provisional measure submitted by Congress.
Not Enough Done to Protect the Environment: Expert
Sergius Gandolfi, a professor of ecology at University of São Paulo, who has been actively participating in discussions about the Forest Code for the past two years, says the government’s vetoes are correct in some aspects, but at the same time the government deserves criticism for not doing enough.
“I think [the vetoes] were correct, as they try to reduce losses resulting from the changes to the code, enhancing the PPA restoration that would otherwise be reduced by medium and large landowners, which would mean less protection for the rivers,” Gandolfi said. He adds that these landholders are the ones who own most of the land in Brazil; therefore the affected area would be huge.
The reductions in the restoration of rivers in PPAs in small properties, Gandolfi says, will have “serious consequences locally and remotely due to silting and water contamination,” Gandolfi says.
He also expresses concern about the reduction of forest areas in light of global warming. “[According to estimates] this [deforestation] will lead to more torrential rains and therefore will require wider riparian forests and not narrower ones to protect the watercourses.”
Although Rousseff might have been right to impose her vetoes, there’s a lot more the government should do, Gandolfi says.
“The government’s position on this issue was extremely compromising for the environment and will generate environmental, social, and economic consequences,” Gandolfi says.
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