(Adds information on future minister, opposition statement, background)
By Marcelo Teixeira
SAO PAULO, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday tapped lawyer Ricardo de Aquino Salles to be his minister of environment, according to messages from the incoming president posted on social media.
Salles served as secretary of environment in Sao Paulo state government in 2016 and 2017, when centrist Geraldo Alckmin was governor. Brazilian industry and agriculture groups in recent days had announced their support for Salles, who leads a business-friendly organization in Brazil called Movimento Endireita Brasil that backs less bureaucracy and lower taxes.
However, the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental organizations in Brazil, issued a statement critical of the nomination, saying Salles is a former member of Brazil’s Rural Society (SRB) and will give preference to farmers’ interests over environment protection.
The 42-year-old lawyer, who unsuccessfully ran for a Congress seat in the October elections, is a member of the Partido Novo, a recently-created party in Brazil that pledges to fight corruption and improve conditions for businesses.
Brazil is home to the world’s largest rainforest in the Amazon, whose preservation is seen by climate experts as critical to avoiding higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that have been blamed for global warming.
Deforestation last year reached the highest level in a decade in Brazil as authorities have been unable to stop illegal logging and irregular forest clearances for activities such as raising livestock and agriculture.
But Bolsonaro and some of his advisors have been critical of fines issued to rural producers for environmental crimes, which has led to concern by environment groups of a possible increase in deforestation. The President-elect had planned to merge the environment and agriculture ministries, but later changed his mind.
Bolsonaro has said he also favors a relaxation of environmental licensing processes for infrastructure projects and other businesses that have an impact on the environment, as he plans an aggressive agenda of investments to boost the economy.
Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira Editing by Bill Berkrot