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Chile: New Law Creates Environmental Courts

(Aug. 1, 2012) On June 18, 2012, Chile's legislature passed Law 20600 on the creation of new environmental courts, thereby granting the Superintendency of the Environment the power to prosecute environmental violations. (Law 20600 Creating Environmental Courts (June 18, 2012), DIARIO OFICIAL (July 28, 2012), Bibloteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile website.) The law creates three new courts: one located in the northern region (Antofogasta); one in the central region (Santiago), and the third in the southern region (Valdivia). (Id.)

Both individuals and institutions will have legal standing to bring a claim of any violation of environmental laws and regulations before the newly created courts. (Tribunales Ambientales Comienzan a Operar en Diciembre del 2012, Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile (July10, 2012).)

The environmental courts are competent to hear cases involving the following matters:

    • supreme decrees providing for environmental quality and emissions rules;
    • compensation for environmental damage;
    • claims filed against the Superintendency of Environment;
    • claims filed against decisions of the Committee of Ministers or the Executive Director of the Environmental Evaluation Agency (EEA);
    • claims filed by individuals or companies challenging rulings by the Committee of Ministers or the Executive Director of the EEA, if those rulings were not based on an environmental impact assessment;
    • complaints challenging administrative decisions rendered by a Minister or a public service entity for the execution or implementation of emissions and/or quality standards; and
    • complaints challenging administrative decisions that annul an environmental regulation. (Id.)

According to Flavia Liberona of the Terram Foundation, a non-profit environmental think tank in Chile, “[t]he environmental courts can make an important contribution as long as they are implemented satisfactorily.” (Chile Celebra vigencia de tribunales ambientales, LA NACIÓN (July 12, 2012); The Terram Foundation, Terram website (last visited July 31, 2012).)

However, some critics believe that the new courts will weaken the authority of the decisions and sanctions issued by the Superintendency of the Environment, because these will now be subject to appeal before the new environmental courts. The new courts will become operational in six months, whereupon the Supreme Court will no longer hear environmental cases. (Chile Celebra vigencia de tribunales ambientales, supra.)