Brazil lower house passes reforms easing restrictions on deforestation

The Brazil House of Deputies passed reforms to the the country’s forest code May 24 that ease restrictions on deforestation and provide amnesty for prior deforestation violations. The amended code would allow small farmers to cut down trees on hilltops and along rivers, two areas that were previously protected. It would also provide farmers with amnesty for violations of the forest code prior to July 22, 2008. The amendments were mainly pushed by Alldo Rebelo, head of the Communist Party of Brazil, who argues that the restrictions are disproportionately hurting small-scale farmers. The amendments still have to be passed by the Senate, where they are expected to meet tough opposition, and be signed by President Dilma Rousseff before taking effect. A group of 10 former environmental ministers sent a letter dated May 23 to the president urging a balanced approach to environmental regulation that will promote both the agricultural industry and environmental sustainability.

The amendments to the forest code are the latest in Brazilian initiatives that attempt to find a balance between economic development and environmental concerns over Amazon deforestation. In June 2009, then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva approved a controversial measure that would allow legal privatization of publicly held Amazon land. The measure was aimed at stabilizing ownership of nearly 260,000 square miles of Amazon land, the contested ownership of which has sparked violence in the region. Da Silva vetoed sections of the bill, which some critics—including legislators, environmentalists, and state prosecutors—had argued unjustly rewarded illegal land grabs and failed to distinguish between small farmers and large corporate and absentee landlords. Earlier in June 2009, the government announced a program to pay farmers in the Amazon to reforest cleared land. In 2008, Brazil set a goal to reduce Amazon deforestation by 70% over the next 10 years.

From Jurist, May 25. Used with permission.

See our last posts on Brazil and the struggle for the Amazon.