Brazil's Congress Votes To Ease Deforestation Rules
April 27, 2012

Brazil’s Congress Votes To Ease Deforestation Rules

Brazilian lawmakers have passed controversial new legislation that eases regulations regarding the amount of land that farmers must preserve as forest, a move that critics argue weakens environmental protections efforts and could lead to increased deforestation in the Amazon and other regions.

According to BBC News reports, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved the bill by a 247-184 margin Wednesday, with the Associated Press (AP) noting that two members abstained. The proposed law will now be sent to President Dilma Rousseff, who the British news organization said could use her veto to strike down select parts of the bill.

The legislation's approval in the Congress "capped a year of political wrangling," the BBC said. "Brazil's farmers have long pushed for changes, arguing that uncertainty over the current legislation has undermined investment in the agriculture sector, which accounts for more than 5% of GDP“¦ Severe environmental restrictions have also forced many smaller farmers off their land, they argue."

Conversely, opponents of the bill argue that the global economic downturn has played a role in the slowing of deforestation, as demand for cattle, iron, soy and timber produced in the Amazon has fallen in both the US and Europe in recent years, Fox News Latino wrote on Thursday. There are reportedly concerns that the demand for those goods will increase once the economy fully recovers, and that easing regulations could lead to a sizable spike in deforestation.

"This vote is a big setback," environmental lawyer Raul do Valle, a member of the social and environmental watchdog group Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), told the AP Wednesday. "What Brazil built for decades, legislation that protected its forests, is being nullified."

The existing rules regarding deforestation, which the BBC says date back to 1965, require landowners to keep between 20% to 80% of their property forested in the Amazon region. While that regulation will remain unchanged, farmers would be able to cultivate land closer to hilltops and riverbanks -- physical features that are highly susceptible to erosion -- while also waving all fines from the illegal clearing of trees incurred prior to July 2008.

"About 20 percent of Brazil´s Amazon rainforest has been destroyed already," the AP's Marco Sibaja said. "But beginning in 2008, the government stepped up enforcement, using satellite images to track the destruction and sending environmental police into areas where deforestation was happening at its quickest pace“¦ Amazon deforestation slowed and hit its lowest recorded level from August 2010 through July 2011, when just 2,410 square miles (6,240 square kilometers) were felled."