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General Environmental Licensing Law

In May, the Chamber of Deputies concluded the analysis of Bill (PL) 3729/2004, which proposes the creation of a new legal framework for the Environmental Licensing process, currently provided for in the law 6938/1980, which provides for the National Environmental Policy. The matter went on to the analysis of the Federal Senate.

In March 2021, Deputy Neri Geller (PP/MT) was appointed plenary rapporteur for the matter and presented his report on 05/10. The House Plenary concluded the analysis of the text three days later, on 05/13, and received 300 votes in favor and 122 against.

The proposal is part of the priority legislative agenda announced by the Bolsonaro government for 2021. Furthermore, the approved text has the support of the Parliamentary Front for Agriculture, a group that forms part of the government support base and is close to the president of the House, Deputy Arthur Lira (PP/AL). The review of the rules on environmental licensing is also supported by the National Confederation of Industry.

Chamber of Deputies

The two months between the appointment of deputy Neri Geller as rapporteur of the bill and the approval of the matter by the plenary contrasts with the almost 17 years of the matter being processed in the Chamber of Deputies. Since its presentation in 2004, the PL has been the subject of several discussions and articulations that resulted in some proposals for opinions presented and, in 2016, it began to be processed as a matter of urgency, which led to direct analysis by the Plenary.

In the last 2 years, the PL was debated by the Working Group (WG) coordinated by deputy Kim Kataguiri (DEM/SP). Despite not having the competence to approve or reject the PL, the WG had the objective of contributing to the construction of a minimally consensual text that could be submitted to the Plenary of the Chamber. Thus, deputy Kim Kataguiri even presented 4 versions of the base text during 2019. The 4th and last version published, presented in August, was the target of criticism from environmental organizations and parliamentarians, as they considered that the proposal brought setbacks and serious flexibility in the licensing process.

Kataguiri indicated that he would present a 5th version of the opinion in 2020, but the text was not published. The congressman stated that he was in the final stages of negotiations and that he had advanced on the following topics: standardization of concepts; classification of the types of licensing foreseen; digitization and transparency of the process; definition of conditioning standards and proportionality of environmental compensations. Deputy Rodrigo Agostinho (PSB/SP), coordinator of the Environmentalist Parliamentary Front, reiterated that the text was at an advanced stage and encompassed some of the main controversial points, such as: Strategic Environmental Assessment; Economic-Ecological Zoning; phase unification; Membership License and Commitment; and simplification of processes for the sanitation sector.

Still in 2020, the then mayor, deputy Rodrigo Maia (DEM / RJ) signaled the possibility of guiding the project in Plenary, but ended up not proceeding with the process.

In March 2021, Deputy Neri Geller (PP/MT) was appointed the new rapporteur for the matter. He is vice president of the Parliamentary Agricultural Front (FPA) and was part of the WG that was discussing the project. On that occasion, Geller acknowledged the work developed by Kim Kataguiri and stated that he would use the text developed by this congressman as the basis for his report. Thus, the rapporteur started a series of conversations with authorities of the Executive Power and parliamentarians and announced that his intention was to guide the topic in the next 90 days.

This forecast was fulfilled and his report was approved by the Plenary two months after his appointment as rapporteur for the matter. The base text of PL 3729/2004 was approved in Plenary by 300 votes in favor of 122 votes against, in a session that lasted until dawn. The following morning, the Plenary dedicated another session to the analysis of the highlights presented. With the removal or rejection of all the highlights, however, the main text was kept, in the form of the substitute presented by Deputy Neri Geller, and, again by 300 votes to 122, the final wording was approved.

In giving his opinion, the deputy highlighted that the project will guarantee legal security and unlock investments in the country. He also stated that the substitute was structured based on the text presented by deputy Kim Kataguiri (DEM/SP) after debates within the Environmental Licensing Working Group. The substitute, according to Neri Geller, establishes uniform guidelines adaptable to the specificities of each region and respects the autonomy of federal entities. The deputy reiterated that the project improves the participation of civil society in the drafting of terms of reference, concentrates decision-making power on the licensing body and promotes the adoption of electronic means and simplified procedures, in addition to providing for the waiver of licensing for 13 activities . Neri Geller stressed that the text does not set any precedent for suppression of native vegetation.

federal Senate

A month after its approval in the Chamber, the bill was received by the Federal Senate and numbered as Bill (PL) 2159/2021. The delay in receiving it can be attributed to political clashes about the order and the reporting of the matter, mediated by the President of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco (DEM/MG).

Initially, the text was sent directly to the Plenary for analysis, where senator Katia Abreu (PP/TO) was appointed rapporteur. However, after a meeting with the Presidents of the Committees on Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (CRA), Environment (CMA) and Foreign Affairs and National Defense (CRE) (Acir Gurgacz, Jaques Wagner and Kátia Abreu), senator Rodrigo Pacheco announced the revision of the order of the matter, which started to be processed simultaneously in the CMA and CRA and, only after the deliberation by the commissions, should be submitted to the Plenary. The commissions should organize joint meetings to deepen and improve the project.

A request for a joint public hearing between CMA and CRA to discuss licensing has already been approved. The expectation is that 3 hearings will be held on the subject in September. 

It is also noteworthy that senator Kátia Abreu was again appointed rapporteur, both at the CRA and at the CMA. The senator has been incisive about the importance of the environmental issue for the country, highlighting the risk of Brazil not prospering in trade agreements if it does not address the issue with due attention. The reporter informed that she will seek consensus on the text, listening to specialists on the subject.

Perspectives

The priority given to the agenda by the government and the proximity of the Parliamentary Front for Agriculture (FPA) to the president of the Chamber contributed to the advancement of the matter. This movement was questioned in document signed by about 250 civil society organizations that asked the presidents of the Chamber and of the Senate to concentrate efforts on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and to avoid guiding controversial legislative proposals.

 The quick approval of the bill in the Chamber Plenary and the lack of space for dialogue were points heavily criticized by opposition parliamentarians, as well as organizations, scientific entities and civil society who, despite agreeing with the need to optimize the environmental licensing process, make reservations and demand changes in points of the text now under analysis by the Federal Senate. Likewise, the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), a network that brings together 60 business groups, declared concern with the approval of the project in the Chamber, pointing out the possibility of worsening Brazil's reputation abroad.

There was strong pressure, therefore, for the Federal Senate to deepen the debate. In this perspective, Rodrigo Pacheco, who had decided to deliberate the project directly in the House's plenary, backtracked. Upon announcing the revision of the order, the president of the Senate highlighted the House's commitment to economic development, to the country's agribusiness, but also to sustainability and the preservation of the environment. According to Pacheco, the processing of the project by the commissions will be an opportunity to listen to civil society and specialists, so that the subject can be studied in depth.

As mentioned, the Application (REQ) has already been approved 6/2021, authored by senator Acir Gurgacz (PDT/RO), to carry out joint public hearings on the subject. Thus, the processing of the project will remain on hold until the debates take place. 

In addition to holding the hearings, the presentation of an opinion by the rapporteur, senator Kátia Abreu, is awaited. It is noteworthy that, even if the matter is processed simultaneously in the CRA and the CMA, the opinion must be approved by each committee and then proceeded to the Plenary for consideration.

This article is updated as relevant movements related to the topic take place. Its publication took place on 01/04/2021 and the last update on 26/08/2021.

Wrote by Umbelino Lôbo Team: Gabriela Barbagalo, advisor.

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