The Brazilian government has announced measures to reduce by half the average period of granting environmental licenses – although some local lawyers think stronger powers are still needed.
The plan is to speed up the 500 cases that are currently on the waiting list at IBAMA (Brazilian Institute for Environment and Renewable Resources) as well as future requests.
The agency hopes to achieve this by computerising the licence process, reducing red tape and unifying protocols under a so-called Instrução Normativa rule introduced in July.
Antonio José L C Monteiro, an environmental law partner at Pinheiro Neto Advogados, explains that the existing environmental regulations already establish the time period for granting environmental permits - at six months, or a year if an environmental impact study is needed - but, “the main problem at IBAMA is the lack of human and material resources to deal with all the licenses and authorisations it is responsible for granting,” he says.
Roberta Danelon Leonhardt, environmental lawyer at Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice Advogados, agrees: “Licensing procedures set by the Environment Ministry have in several cases been disregarded by the environmental agencies due to, for example, lack of staff. The ministry will succeed in its goal if it can increase personnel at environmental bodies, which is one of the measures it intends to apply.”
The ministry wants to reduce the licensing process to 13 months, cutting the current period of 24 months almost in half. IBAMA is to follow a new detailed time plan for issuing of environmental protocols, which has not existed so far.
In addition, 400 environmental analysts will be hired through a public competitive examination, and will be assisting at all stages of the process.
Pinheiro Neto’s Monteiro explains that the government’s attempts to reduce the time frame is a positive step, but there are two factors which need to be considered: “Firstly, it is unclear whether IBAMA will really be granted all the resources it needs to meet these obligations, and secondly, whether external factors such as public hearings, pressure from environmental organisations, and opposition of the Public Prosecutor Office will stop IBAMA from accomplishing this goal.”
Werner Grau Neto, another environment partner at Pinheiro Neto Advogados, says IBAMA will only become efficient at licensing industrial activities when its legal powers become respected by the other actors involved in licensing procedures:
“IBAMA, like state agencies, is supposed to make technical decisions that, to some extent, are subjective ones. These are linked to both legal standards and to public policies. Until this power becomes respected and undisputed before the courts by third parties, particularly the Public Prosecutor’s Office, licencising procedures will always be under the risk of taking ‘forever’,” he adds.                            
(Latin Lawyer 19.08.2008)