“Reform” of the Environmental Review in Chile Planned

-Sphenisco Organizes a Seminar on the Ramifications-

La Serena, Landau 22. December 2018.
ReformFor over 20 years in the La Higuera Region (northern Chile), industrial projects have been planned that again and again threaten the “La Higuera-Isla Chañaral”ecosystem, and with it, the natural habitat of the Humboldt Penguin. It is SEIA’s task (the agency responsible for conducting the environmental compatibility assessment) to properly and in conjunction with subject-matter experts’ assessments, review and appraise the planned projects. In this process however, through intensive lobbying and maneuvering, corporations have continued to attempt to minimize imposed environmental conditions and to push through concessions from the government. The review processes usually take many years to complete, and are often finally decided in court.
In July, the Piñera government drafted a bill to “reform” the environmental review process. The review should become more modern and optimized, the influence of politics reduced, the participation of citizens expanded and the access to justice eased. That all sounds good. However, the actual suggested changes speak a very different language, as shown in the following examples: thus, should the time of citizen participation be reduced from 60 to 30 days, the regional review committee should be dissolved and replaced by three nationwide commissions. The chronologically-shortened civic participation should be documented and its results submitted to the environmental court. Complaints are thus to be directed to the judiciary. With this, the court would simultaneously be the reviewer and the judge, and the separation between public authorities and justice would be removed. Overall, the possibilities for citizens to sue against a project would be drastically limited. According to the critical opinion of attorneys and experts, this “reform” would weaken the review of the environmental compatibility and open the floodgates for even stronger Manipulation.
The drafted bill has alarmed natural and environmental protectionists. The La Higuera Fishers Collective, the citizens action committee MODEMA, the group Defensa Ambiental of the Coquimbo Region, and Sphenisco had invited people to come to a seminar on December 4th in La Serena. Francisco Cabrera from Fenetrama (the Environmental Section of the Chilean National Federation of Employees in Public Service), Patricia Araya, an attorney from the University of Chile and consultant of the NGO Fima (an organization of attorneys that advocate for environmental protection), as well as Nancy Duman from Sphenisco, all lectured on the proposed law. Important representatives from the citizenry and governmental institutions all took part in the seminar: José Ramos from the Fishers Cooperative of Los Choros, Boris Muñoz of the Elqui Valley Initiative without Mines (Elqui Sin Mineras), Senator Adriana Muñoz, Cristian Carriel, Chairman of the Consulting Body of the Environmental Commission of the Coquimbo Region as well as Adriana Serrano, per procurationem for Representative Juan Manuel Fuenzalida.
The participants agreed that the planned “reform” was a step backwards from the current environmental review procedure, and primarily gouges out citizens abilities to participate in the process. Further events and conversations with Representatives and Senators will take place, in an attempt to prevent the “reform”. This is not unrealistic, since proponents and critics are about equally strong in the Chilean Assembly.
Translated by Erich Greiner
This posting is a summarization of the article „Analizan efectos negativos a la modificación de la ley del Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental“, from our employee Alicia Isabel Acuña, published in El Observatodo on 19. December 2018.