Brazil's lower house of Congress passed a measure late Tuesday that would ease restrictions on the use of forests in the country, including the Amazon. Environmentalists said it would speed deforestation as it favored agricultural interests.
The new measure eases restrictions on the amount of land that ranchers and farmers are required to preserve as forest. Ranchers and farmers have complained that the existing law is too strict and hampers efforts to increase agricultural production in the country. Environmentalists say the new bill will speed destruction of the Brazilian rainforest, the BBC reported.
The measure is expected to pass a Senate vote intact. But the president, Dilma Rousseff, has signaled that she will veto the most controversial element of the bill, which would grant some amnesties for years of illegal logging, but that could lead to a showdown with Congress, the Financial Times reported.
“What was approved is a big step back for Brazil’s environmental legislation,” said Marina Silva, Brazil’s former environment minister and presidential candidate. “It encourages farmers to clear more land because they will presume they can break the law again and be forgiven again.”
The new measure would also give more power to the states in enforcing the forestry code. Environmentalists say that because many states get substantial tax revenue from farmers, they will be more lenient about illegal deforestation.
Rousseff ran on a pro-development platform, and the controversy over the new measure underscores Brazil's efforts to use its natural resources as the emerging economy seeks to become a major player, WSJ.com reports. Brazil is the world's biggest exporter of beef, chicken and sugar, and the second-biggest exporter of soy. The country is working to increase exports and exploiting other resources in the Amazon, from damming rivers for electricity to oil and iron extraction.