With the new law on hydrocarbons (Ley Orgánica de Hidrocarburos) now close to a final vote in Congress, there are growing concerns that environmental protection is being sidelined in the quest for investment. In an interview last week in the La República newspaper, Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz expressed her view that her department would not be able to put forward its views as the body responsible for maintaining environmental standards.

The draft legislation is being debated in the congressional Mining and Energy Commission. This was first presented to Congress last November by the then Kuczynski administration. It not only envisages a reduction in royalties payable and an extension of the duration of contracts, but transfers responsibilities previously in the hands of the Environment Ministry (Minam) to the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM).

It is for this reason that the draft legislation is being discussed only by the Mining and Energy Commission. Opinions from other departments, including the Minam and Ministry of Economy and Finance appear not to have been sought. Two weeks ago, Minam sent a report to the commission (737-2018) outlining its views.

Minam is also worried by the inclusion in the legislation of the role apportioned to Perupetro in setting the environmental base line, thereby further undermining that of the Servicio Nacional de Certificación Ambiental para las Inversiones Sostenibles (Senace). Muñoz is quoted as saying “we are not in agreement on this either as it is not how it should be (no es que corresponde) (…) We believe that the entity with legal responsibility (ente rector) has the capability of producing the framework of rules without having to ask for the binding opinion of other sectors”.

As well as Minam, the Ombundsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) has given its opinion on this to the congressional commission.

Alicia Abanto, who heads the Defensoría’s environmental team is quoted as saying “the fact that the MEM is given priority in setting norms that correspond to other ministries like Minam on environmental matters that cross sectors is something that neutralizes the role of Minam, the body responsible for ensuring that the state complies with the constitutional mandate to protect the environment”. If this were approved by the commission, she went on to say “it would be a reverse for the country’s environmental policy”.

César Gamboa, executive director of the NGO Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), adds his view on this issue. “It’s a step backwards on environmental matters since, during the Ollanta Humala government, the MEM ceased to act as judge and jury; but worse still, it exposes the country to a violation of the Free Trade Agreements signed with the United States and the European Union.”