On Monday, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles fulfilled part of his promise to end environmental protection standards that, in his opinion, hinder the lives of businessmen. And, using the metaphor that the minister himself used during an April ministerial meeting, he “passed the cattle” on some of these rules. As a result of its articulation, the National Environment Council (Conama) on Monday removed protection from 1.6 million hectares of sandbanks and mangroves across the country. These are areas of permanent preservation close to the Brazilian coast that arouse interest from the real estate sector and shrimp farmers, shrimp producers.
At the ordinary meeting at 10 am on Monday, the 23 councilors revoked Conama resolutions 302 and 303, which established rules such as the protection of a minimum strip of 300 meters of sandbanks and mangroves, in addition to urban springs and other water reservoirs. These are areas of permanent protection. Without this preservation, there is the possibility, for example, of luxury hotels to settle in mangrove areas, throughout the coastal region. The calculation of the potentially affected region was made by the Mapbiomas Brasil organization, at the request of the report.
It also came into the sights of the councilors – most of them linked to the federal government, through ministries, or business entities, such as the national confederations of Agriculture (CNA) and Industry (CNI) – resolution 284, which submitted irrigation projects to the environmental licensing. A resolution that allows the burning of polluting residues of pesticides in cement production furnaces also came into force.
These protections have been in force in the country since 2002. Part of them, such as those dealing with strips where deforestation is prohibited around rivers, has already been incorporated into the Forest Code, in force since 2012. But the one dealing with sandbanks and mangroves has not been . “Little by little we are losing a whole legal framework that comes before the Federal Constitution of 1988. It is a setback without parameters for the country”, warned the manager of the water cause of the non-governmental organization SOS Mata Atlântica, Malu Ribeiro. For her, Conama should be expanding the area of protection of biomes, not decreasing, as suggested by Minister Salles, who also chairs the council.
In an opinion issued in March this year, the Ministry of the Environment’s legal counsel had already defended the complete revocation of the resolution. Its main argument is that the norms are repeated in the Forest Code or they were changed by it. Therefore, there would be an expiry, which would generate an antagonism between the two rules. Since 2017, when the suggestion for revocation was presented, the Federal Public Ministry has issued recommendations so that this rule is not changed. Prosecutors have a place at Conama, but they only have the right to speak, not to vote.
These deregulations are some of those that do not depend on the National Congress, they are called infralegal. In April, during a ministerial meeting that ended up being released as part of a police investigation against President Jair Bolsonaro, Minister Salles even suggested that the time of the pandemic, where press attention was focused on the topic of covid-19, it would be ideal to “go through the cattle and change all the rules and simplify rules [ambientais] (…) of baciada ”.
At the beginning of the Jair Bolsonaro government, there was a significant change in the composition of the councils. Before, there were 96 councilors, today there are 23. The ones who lost the most seat on the collegiate body were civil society organizations, which had 23 representatives and today have 4, and the States, which were 27 and now are 5. The only votes against Government initiative came from the State of Piauí and the two NGOs present at the meeting – Chico Mendes International Institute for Research and Social and Environmental Responsibility and the Novo Encanto Association for Ecological Development. In turn, Rio Grande do Sul opposed two of the three revocations.
These were not the first setbacks in the environmental area in 2020. In recent weeks, the Bolsonaro government has been controversial in fighting fires in the Pantanal and the Amazon. It was only last week, two months after the intensification of the Pantanal fires, that the minister flew over the region and sent teams from the Brazilian Environment Institute to inspect areas that were registering hot spots.
Bolsonaro’s speeches on this topic are aimed at blaming Indians and Caboclos for the fires, even though he does not present any evidence in this regard. In the past week, the PF has indicted four farmers for starting fires in an area of 25,000 hectares in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso.