Sanitary and environmental deregulation

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The freedoms of movement and to undertake are being confused with the freedom to destroy and let die

For years we have witnessed an offensive by business lobbies in favor of making environmental licensing rules more flexible. This offensive is part of the broader movement to deconstruct all Brazilian environmental legislation. This movement has been promoted for some time by an articulation of forces located inside and outside our legislative bodies. In recent years, there have been several proposals to change environmental licensing, including the one whose base text – PL 3.729/2004 – was approved on May 12, 2021 in the Chamber of Deputies, after sewing behind closed doors with lobbyists from the industry and the agribusiness[I]. This substitute transforms the environmental licensing institute into an exception, virtually abolishing its existence.[1]ia and introducing a self-licensing process to be carried out by the promoters of predatory activities themselves. The installation of the forces of transgression of legislation within the Ministry of the Environment itself, from 2019, represented the apogee of the deconstruction strategy adopted by groups that enrich themselves with the destruction of the country's natural and cultural heritage. The presence, in this Ministry, of a Minister of the Environment who defends a “cattle stampede”, by which he intends to trample the world of rights, unscrupulously embodies the project of transforming illegality into a norm. The notion of public environmental policy is replaced by its opposite.

It is known that the pressure of economic power has always adopted the opposite direction to that of social groups threatened and victimized by the degradation of the environment. Small rural producers, indigenous and quilombola communities, residents of urban peripheries and areas of industrial concentration have been the main victims. The suffering of these majorities does not result from the excess of previous environmental assessments, but from their lack and insufficiency. Throughout the 1980s, a legal framework for the environment was set up that was, at the time, applied, albeit precariously, given the fiscal crisis in the State. From the 1990s onwards, together with pressures for the liberalization of the economy, a vocabulary expressive of the presence of interests in the agromineral extractive complex within the State itself began to appear. Entrepreneurial criticisms of the “rise of regulations”, the “lockdown of the economy”, the “obstacles to development” gained strength and began to be represented within Congress by the so-called ruralist caucus. Since then, one of the targets of his attacks has been the legislation that guaranteed IBAMA's role as the body responsible for analyzing the environmental impact studies required in the case of large-scale undertakings with great potential environmental impact. Initially, the lobbyists resorted to arguments of the so-called “infernal alternative”: “if we do not license hydroelectric plants, we will have to resort to thermoelectric plants”… Then, a strategy of blaming the victims of the impacts of the type “twenty thousand people cannot prevent the progress of millions of Brazilians”; or, “the quilombolas who denounce the harmful impacts of hydroelectric plants will be blamed for global warming, as they will lead to the adoption of thermoelectric plants”.

Well, never before have the facts so emphatically contradicted this old rhetoric that caring for the environment would impede growth and job creation. Since 2019, Brazil has been experiencing, at the same time, records in environmental degradation and unemployment records. Unemployment has certainly been exacerbated by the pandemic. But as the CPI of COVID in the Senate exhaustively shows, the size of the damage caused by the pandemic is the result of the same “deregulatory” principles that are widely preached by the federal government. In this case, the absence of regulation was applied, with criminal care, to public health. What is Bolsonarist management of the pandemic if not the total easing of health standards? What is the meaning of the federal government's action if not the pursuit of economic profitability at any cost, even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of deaths?

Prior environmental impact assessments involve not only preserving the environment, but maintaining the conditions for the existence of numerous social groups whose territorial, health and work rights depend on the preservation of ecosystems, rivers, lakes, air basins and biological diversity[ii]. These are the social groups that have been affected, in the name of progress, by serious environmental injustices. By contesting the present intention to mischaracterize the environmental licensing processes[iii], these groups understand that it is not fair that the profits of large companies are obtained at the expense of the impoverishment of the majority. They do not intend to admit that the prosperity of the rich comes about through the expropriation of those who are already poor. For this was the mechanism by which Brazil reached one of the world's top positions in terms of social inequality: income was concentrated, but it also concentrated spaces and environmental resources in the hands of large economic interests.

The refusal of a transparent and widely discussed licensing process with groups potentially affected by economic projects is similar, today, to the refusal of the vaccine by the federal government. Licensing, even if, until now, seen as insufficient from the perspective of the affected groups, aimed to play the role of a kind of vaccine against the great predation and expropriation of the unprotected. Sanitary and environmental deregulation is justified by the pretense of offering freedom for business. If the basic text of PL 3.729/2004 approved by the Chamber prevails. freedom of movement and freedom to undertake will be confused with freedom to destroy and let die.

Henri Acselrad is a professor at the Institute of Research and Urban and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IPPUR/UFRJ).


[I] “The document was prepared behind closed doors, with the ruralist caucus, the Civil House and lobbies of large industries and infrastructure companies.” ISA, Indigenous peoples, quilombolas and extractivists are against a project that practically ends licensing virtually-does-with-licensing?utm_source=isa&utm_medium=headlines&utm_campaign

[ii] According to a survey by ISA, “297 Indigenous Lands or 41% of the total areas with demarcation processes already open at the National Indian Foundation (Funai) would be transformed into no-man's land for the purposes of assessing, preventing and compensating for the socio-environmental impacts of works and economic activities. This is because Geller's text provides for licensing only for territories that have already been approved, that is, with demarcation already completed, or with restrictions on use for isolated indigenous groups”. ISA, Indigenous peoples, quilombolas and extractivists are against a project that practically ends licensing,

[iii] The Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Apib), the Coordination of Articulation of Rural Black Quilombola Communities (Conaq) and the National Council of Extractive Populations (CNS), in addition to 24 networks and organizations, released a note in which they condemn the ruralist proposal and Bolsonarist. Repudiation Note to Deputy Mauro Pereira's replacement for Lein's Project No. 3.729/2004,

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