Brazil president creates body to pardon environmental fines

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has created a regulatory body with the power to forgive or revise environmental fines, a move to rein in what he has called an “industry of fines” that he sees threatening the livelihood of farmers and ranchers.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, reacts during a ceremony marking his first 100 days in office at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Environmentalists warn that the move could hurt enforcement of laws limiting deforestation in sensitive biomes such as the Amazon rainforest.

In a decree published in the government’s official gazette on Thursday, Bolsonaro created a “nucleus of environmental conciliation” in his government with powers aimed at closing out environmental disputes. The decree takes effect in 180 days.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said last month the government was considering the body to speed up the process adjudicating fines and improve a system in which few fines are actually collected.

But the system also has the potential to undermine the existing environmental regulator, called Ibama, which uses fines as one of its principal tools for enforcing the law.

“The decree on fines creates a kind of impunity,” said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil.

“Whoever is caught committing environmental crimes gains the chance to appeal endlessly and never be effectively judged.”

On the campaign trail last year, Bolsonaro railed against environmental fines faced by farmers, a major base of support that helped him win a commanding victory in the October vote.

The conciliation body will be responsible for validating environmental infractions, holding hearings with the defendants in which it can “present possible legal solutions to close out the dispute” and making a ruling in the case.

“In proceedings that are well founded, (the defendant) can confess or make a deal,” Salles said last month. “And those that have some defect in their origins can be corrected in the moment of conciliation.”

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Richard Chang