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Chile: Bill Amending the Organic Law of the Environment

(July 2, 2008) On June 5, 2008, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet sent Congress a bill amending the Organic Law of the Environment (Law 19,300 of 1994). The bill creates the Ministry of the Environment, the Environmental Evaluation Service, and the Superintendency of the Environment, and contains other provisions aimed at modernizing Chile's environmental legal framework.

The bill recognizes the difficulties presented by fragmented environmental powers and responsibilities held by a multitude of administrative agencies, and the lack of a clear definition concerning the legislative goal of coordination among them. The bill also takes note of the politicization of environmental decision-making procedures, the often confusing and contradictory decisions reached by ministries and other administrative agencies with environmental responsibilities, and weaknesses in the national and local enforcement systems. Furthermore, the bill acknowledges the frailty of local environmental authorities, the inconsistency in application of the Environmental Impact Evaluation System (EIES), and the myriad of unconnected, overlapping, and outdated environmental provisions.

To address these issues, the bill creates the Ministry of the Environment as an entity in charge of designing and implementing policies, plans, and programs related to environmental protection, the conservation of biological diversity and renewable natural resources, and the promotion of sustainable development. The Environmental Evaluation Service, on the other hand, which represents the legal continuation of the current National Environmental Commission (NEC), is a decentralized organ with full jurisdiction over the EIES, and includes the implementation and promotion of public information and participation mechanisms within the EIES. Finally, the Superintendency of the Environment is conceived as a decentralized entity responsible for enforcing environmental qualification resolutions, prevention and decontamination plans, emission and quality provisions, and environmental management plans. The Superintendency possesses the power to issue “evaluation and conformity certification” resolutions with respect to projects subject to the EIES. The bill also enables citizens to file judicial claims and reports with governmental agencies for environmental violations within the jurisdiction of the EIES. The enforcement powers of the Superintendency reinforce the NEC's existing powers.

At the local level, the bill extends the responsibilities of the municipal trash collection and hygiene directorates to include the planning and implementation of environmental programs and the enforcement of environmental legislation.

The bill establishes new instruments for achieving environmental objectives, including: (a) the Strategic Environmental Evaluation, aimed at addressing sustainable development goals within each ministry; (b) corrections and amendments to the EIES, i.e., the transformation of the current NEC into the Environmental Evaluation System; (c) efficiency-bound provisions relating to, among others, the electronic review of submissions and requests, the consequences of administrative inaction, and the creation of a public registry for Environmental Qualification Resolutions; (d) deepening of access to environmental information and public participation mechanisms within the EIES; (e) incorporation of a series of measures related to biodiversity conservation, and the creation of Wildlife Protected Areas within the context of the National Protected Areas System; and (f) amendments to the institutional powers of the National Forestry Corporation vis-à-vis the responsibilities of the new Ministry of the Environment. (Message 352-356 of 5 June 2008; 10 provisions; 7 transitory provisions.)