VENEZUELA – ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION
Venezuela, officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, rests at the northern-most tip of South America surrounded by Colombia to the west, Brazil to the south, Guyana to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the north. Venezuela is among the 17 countries recognised as being ‘mega-diverse’ in acknowledgement of the country’s ecological diversity. Broadly speaking the country can be divided into four distinct regions: the Maracaibo Lowlands in the northwest; the highlands and Andes Mountains in the north; the large central plains; and the Guiana Highlands in the southeast. Due to the differing altitudes the climate of Venezuela is highly variable with cool, alpine temperatures in the highlands and tropical, humid temperatures in the lowlands.
The country is home to several natural attractions including the Angel Falls, which is the world’s highest waterfall, Lake Maracaibo and the Amazon rainforest, which covers a minor area in the south on the Brazilian border.
Venezuela’s flora and fauna are stratified by thermal zones and considerable diversity arises between sea level and its higher heights of up to 5,000 m. Ebony, rosewood, mahogany, lilies and orchids are abundant in the rainforest and the more diversified cloud forest. The “flor de mayo” (Cattleya Mossiae), one of several 3,000 species of Venezuelan orchids, is the national flower while the “araguaney” (Tabebuia Chrysantha), known in England as the "trumpet tree", is the national tree. With respect to fauna, some notable Venezuelan species include giant anteater, capybara (the world’s largest rodent), tapirs, sloths, iguanas, manatees, various species of caiman, rattlesnakes and anaconda.
Environmental challenges in the region include water pollution, caused by various factors such as industry, sewage and oil spills, and deforestation.
PRINCIPAL LEGISLATION AND REGULATOR
In the case of energy, mining and hydrocarbon projects, environmental management rests with the Ministry of Popular Power for Oil and Mining (Ministerio del Poder Popular de Petróleo y Minería) and the Ministry of Popular Power for Eco-socialism and Water (Ministerio del Poder Popular para Ecosocialismo y Aguas). The Organic Law on Environment (Ley Orgánica del Ambiente) and Decree No. 1,257 (Normas sobre Evaluación Ambiental de Actividades Susceptibles de Degradar el Ambiente) are the two key pieces of Venezuela’s regulatory matrix pertaining to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) review process in Venezuela, as well as the country’s constitution.
The Organic Law on Environment came into force in 2006 and contemplates an EIA as part of the environmental approval process for projects that might damage the environment. Articles 80 to 84 indicate that, among other things, any project that might contaminate water, degrade soil, generate waste, alter ecosystems or otherwise harm the environment or adversely affect any biological community is considered a project that might damage the environment and thus is subject to prior control, including an EIA. This is actually mandated by the Constitution of 1999, Article 129, which requires that any activities that would cause environmental damage be preceded by an EIA.
Decree 1,257 (of 1999) is much more specific in its regulation of the environmental impact stemming from exploration and mining projects. It indicates that an EIA is specifically required in respect of projects involving the:
- Exploitation of metallic minerals and precious stones;
- Exploitation of asbestos, bauxite, salt and radioactive materials; and
- Exploitation of coal through opencast operations.
It is up to the Ministry to determine whether or not other projects require an EIA (Art. 6) and also the requirements that may apply in respect of exploration activities. The scope and content of the EIA is determined by its terms of reference and includes: the details of the activity; its potential environmental impact; preventive, corrective and mitigating measures; and a monitoring plan (Art. 7).
Decree 1,257 also addresses authorisation for land use and indicates that authorisation can be granted for environmental impacts on the land covered by the mineral concession, as well as adjacent properties. It is a pre-requisite to any such grant that the applicant hold the concession, as well as any surface rights necessary to carry on the planned activity (Art. 15 and 16). The Ministry may also order a public hearing and all EIA reports are required to be made available and notified by way of newspaper publication (Arts. 26 and 27).