Bolsonaro's decree releases destroy cave to build enterprise

President Jair Bolsonaro (PL) signed this Thursday (13) a decree authorizing the destruction of any type of cave for the construction of projects considered to be of public utility.

The measure maintains the relevance ratings of natural cavities at maximum, high, medium and low, but revokes a rule of 1990 that prohibited caves with maximum relevance from suffering irreversible negative impacts.

According to the new text, they may be modified as long as there is authorization from the competent environmental agencies and environmental compensation by the entrepreneurs. In addition, the impacts will not be able to generate the extinction of the species that inhabit the impacted cavity.

In a note, the Ministry of the Environment justified the need for the change and stated that they “create the possibility of investments in fundamental structuring projects that generate employment and income, such as highways, railways, mining companies, transmission lines and renewable energies”.

Specialists in the area, however, criticize the decree. They claim that the new rules jeopardize the protection of natural cavities.

“The decision will be directly related to the eventual framing that the public power gives of public utility and there is a certain amplitude of what can be considered as a public utility. In federal and state works, where the environmental agency is the wolf and the lamb, there are great chances of there being risks of arbitrating on public utility in a wrong way”, says Murilo Valle, PhD in hydrogeology and member of the Bambuí de Pesquisas Espeleológicas.

The professor explains that the decree would facilitate, for example, the construction of a Heineken brewery factory in Minas Gerais, which was embargoed in September last year by ICMBio (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade) due to risk of damage to the archaeological site where Luzia’s skull was located, the oldest human fossil found in the Americas.

Works on highways with interference in caves s may also be facilitated.

Another point of concern is the form of compensation established by the decree. The text determines that the entrepreneur adopts measures to ensure the preservation of a natural underground cavity with environmental attributes similar to the one that suffered the impact and, preferably, with a maximum degree of relevance and of the same lithology.

That, according to Valle, it will not oblige the person responsible for the project to preserve another cave of maximum relevance or similar characteristics.

“This decree makes it possible to compensate for the impact of a cave of high relevance on any other place, without really worrying if this other cave has a compatible relevance”, he says.

The ministry defends that the possibilities of environmental compensation for projects that affect cavities with a high degree of protection have been expanded, ” in order to allow a more efficient application of resources destined to environmental preservation”.

The decree also allows ICMBio or the entrepreneur to request the environmental agency to change the classification the degree of relevance of the caves, both for higher and lower levels.

Sebeq (Brazilian Society for the Study of Chiroptera) also took a stand against the changes and stated that they will generate “huge impacts and irreparable”

“Literally thousands of cave-dwelling species, including critically endangered species and hyperendemic species (occurring in a single cave, for example) are at increased risk with publication of the Decree 10.935. Furthermore, the ecosystem services provided by these caves, such as the supply of aquifers and the containment of flood pulses, could be seriously compromised”, he said in a note.

Alexandre Lobo, which is also part of the Bambuí Speleological Research Group, emphasizes that the decree may impact the tourism sector.

“Several of these caves are outside the national parks, which in my view are the only that still have some kind of security for the protection of natural and environmental patrimonies”, comments Lobo.

Still according to the decree, in 90 days an act set of the Ministries of Environment, Mines and Energy and Infrastructure should be published to define the methodology for classifying the degree of relevance of cavities.

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