Following the suspension of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff last week—in what some called a coup by conservative opponents—her supporters warned that the interim government, led by Vice President Michel Temer, may use the opportunity to push through neoliberal legislation.
According to the advocacy group the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (ALERT), they were right.
The Brazilian Committee of the Constitution, Justice, and Citizenship on April 27 "quietly" passed an amendment known as PEC 65, which would ban any public works project from being cancelled or suspended, as long as the contractor has submitted an environmental impact study. Amid the political uproar, the measure is now poised to pass.
"Such environmental impact studies have been heavily criticized for often being 'quick and dirty' assessments that fail to consider many indirect impacts of projects or the full range of environmental and social damage they will cause," said ALERT director William Laurance, of James Cook University in Australia, who has conducted environmental research in the Brazilian Amazon for 20 years.
Amazon expert and ALERT member Thomas Lovejoy said Monday, "This is a true test for President Temer and his new government: either veto PEC 65 or go down in history as the government that allowed the Amazon system to fall apart."
As Amazon Watch explained at the time:
Currently, there are three stages in the environmental assessment of a public project in Brazil. The first stage consists of the granting of a "provisional licence", which is an authorization for an environmental impact study. After that, if the project is considered viable, an "installation licence" is given. Work is then monitored and further conditions may be imposed. Only after a third licence – the "operational licence" – is issued can the project go on stream. The same procedure is required for all public works, whether a highway, a hydroelectric dam or an oil platform. If PEC 65 is approved, all three stages become redundant.
The legislation must be ratified by the Brazilian congress to pass into law. Although environmental activists are organizing an 11th-hour effort to convince lawmakers to vote against the bill, ALERT says the issue may be lost amid the noise of the country's ongoing political crisis, as Rousseff awaits an impeachment trial and a new administration takes over her duties.
Others issued similar warnings earlier this month. Carlos Bocuhy, the president of environmental nongovernment organization PROAM, told the Climate News Network that the bill was "completely absurd."
Greenpeace director Marcio Astrini added that if the bill becomes law, "it will act as a factory of tragedies."
Climate News Network's Jan Rocha writes:
The bill's rapporteur is Senator Blairo Maggi, a soya magnate, who has cleared thousands of hectares of rainforest in his home state of Mato Grosso, and is tipped to be the minister of agriculture in the new government that will take over once President Rousseff is suspended from office this week.
However, as many have noted, PEC 65 is not the only conservative bill that's coming down the pipeline.
Coup-imposed Health Minister Ricardo Barros, a member of Temer’s entirely white male cabinet, said that the size of Brazil’s highly popular public health program, known as SUS, must be reviewed, despite the ongoing public health challenges posed by the Zika outbreak.
Barros has claimed that universal healthcare may not survive under Temer's administration, indicating that it may be slashed for austerity's sake, according to the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo.
"There's no use fighting for rights that cannot be delivered by the state," Barros reportedly said.