Pulse Point Newsletter for January 15, 2002
Published by Alliance Consulting International
Partners in Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety

by Enrique Medina, MS, CIH

On December 31, 2001, the Mexican Official Journal of the Federation published a number of reforms to the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection, which became effective on January 1, 2002. We initially reported on the legislative proposals in our November issue. This issue focuses on the reforms and additions approved by the Mexican Congress with respect to the Pollution Release and Transfer Registry (PRTR) and its implementation. The PRTR is equivalent in concept to the Toxics Release Inventory in the United States, and Canada's National Pollution Registry.

Article 109-bis of the General Law was modified to require the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), as well as the states, municipalities and the Federal District to compile an inventory of emissions and transfers of pollutants to air, water, soil, subsoil, materials and wastes and other substances to be determined by the corresponding authority, under their respective jurisdictions. The inventory will be based on the information contained in environmental authorizations, licenses, permits, reports and concessions. The Article also states the obligation of those responsible for pollutant sources to provide the information, data and documents needed to compile the inventory. It further states that the information will be made public and accessible.

Article 159-Bis of the General Law was also modified to state that SEMARNAT shall develop a National Environmental and Natural Resources Information System to register, organize, update and disseminate environmental information, including that referred to in Article 109-Bis.

In addition, Article 11, which was modified as part of the same set of reforms to the General Law, granted SEMARNAT the authority to enter into agreements with state and municipalities to assume federal functions. Some of these functions include issuing environmental authorizations, and conducting inspection and oversight of federal sources, which were previously under exclusive federal purview.

Previously, a voluntary environmental standard NMX-AA-118-SCFI-2001 "Pollutant Release and Transfer Registry-List of Substances and Report" had been issued, which spelled out a mechanism for reporting, and included a list of substances. However, in addition to being a voluntary standard, it only applied to sources under federal jurisdiction excluding most of the manufacturing industry, which in large part is under state and local authorization. The modified Article 109-Bis represents an important change by specifically stating that PRTR is mandatory, and applies also to sources under state and municipal jurisdiction.

A mandatory PRTR will have significant implications to the regulated sector, as well as to local government and civil society in Mexico. States must now begin modifying their own environmental laws and regulations to be at least as strict as federal law, and start developing PRTRs for state regulated sources, including the foreign-owned "maquiladora" industry along the U.S.-Mexico border. Another issue is the availability of technical and financial resources at the local and state levels to assume these new obligations. And the question of how the public and non-governmental organizations will take advantage of  a more comprehensive information base on pollution sources remains to be seen.

It is not clear how reporting will be conducted, as states have different reporting forms and requirements for local industry. SEMARNAT has developed a reporting procedure based on the Operating License template, and has conducted workshops in states that have shown interest in developing their own PRTRs. The NAFTA-created Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America has also been involved in assisting in the development of PRTR mechanisms in Mexico, as part of its mandate to disseminate regional information on the three NAFTA countries.  However, it is not clear if the federal model will prevail since some states do not require an Operating License. What is clear is that the trend towards shifting regulatory authority from the centralized federal institutions to state and local governments appears to be continuing in Mexico.

If you have questions about how this article or other health, safety or environmental issues, please contact us at (619) 297-1469 or send us an email at emedina@pulse-point.com.

Alliance Consulting International
Partners in Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety
3361 28th St.
San Diego, California 92104
(fax (619)297-1023

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Pulse Point is written for the benefit of our readers with the sole intent to provide general information. The articles are not intended as specific opinions or as a substitute for professional advice in individual cases.