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Ahead Of U.N. Climate Talks, Peru Slashes Environmental Regulations

Associated Press

In the run-up to the U.N. climate conference (COP20) in Lima in December, Peru’s government just rolled back environmental regulations in an effort to boost mining.

Dozens of international groups, the United Nations, and even Peru’s own citizen ombudsman are objecting to a new law that weakens environmental protections in the Andean nation even as it prepares to host international climate-control talks this year.

The law, aimed at increasing investment, strips Peru’s six-year-old environment ministry of jurisdiction over air, soil and water quality standards, as well as its ability to set limits for harmful substances. It also eliminates the ministry’s power to establish nature reserves exempt from mining and oil-drilling.

The nation pocked by more than 300 major mines already offers the industry incentives unmatched in the Americas, even by mining-friendly Chile and Mexico.

Enacted July 11 by President Ollanta Humala after limited debate in Congress, the new law also further streamlines environmental reviews for new projects, and, for the next three years, lowers by half the maximum fines for all but the most serious of environmental violations.

At the same time, it re-establishes tax breaks for big mining multinationals, which already enjoy such benefits as simultaneous, indefinite concessions for both exploration and exploitation as long as they make nominal payments. In some Peruvian states, more than half the territory is under concession.

“As far as Latin America goes, we are the country backpedaling the most,” said Jose de Echave, a former deputy environment minister. […]

The law stipulates that Peru’s environmental protection agency occupy itself for the next three years more with “preventative” than disciplinary actions.

Its timing is especially awkward for Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who surprised many with his decision to stay in the job despite the weakened powers. In December, he will host 15,000 people including delegates from 194 nations for U.N.-sponsored climate talks, the last major climate conference before the countries meet in Paris next year in hopes of signing a new global treaty.

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