Pulse Point Newsletter for July 24, 2000
Published by Alliance Consulting International
Partners in Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety

By Enrique Medina, MS, CIH

The 12-year old Regulation to the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection on the Matters of Environmental Impact has undergone a major transformation in a new version issued by the Secretariat of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries, also known as SEMARNAP (all acronyms used refer to their Spanish language name). The new rule appeared in the Mexican Official Gazette (Diario Oficial de la Federación) on May 30, 2000 and came into effect thirty days after its publication.

The major purpose of this regulation has been the obligation imposed on project developers to submit an Environmental Impact Manifest, or MIA, to the National Institute of Ecology (INE), the permitting arm of SEMARNAP, prior to engaging in activities, which may cause potential environmental impacts. From a practical standpoint, this means that projects cannot obtain construction permits until the MIA has been evaluated and authorized by INE.

The environmental impact regulations cover projects that come under federal jurisdiction, which have been reorganized into 23 general categories. These are: water works; transportation and communications; oil and gas pipelines; oil industry; petrochemicals; chemicals; iron and steel; paper; sugar; cement; power generation; mining; hazardous and radioactive waste; forestry; forest plantations; land use changes in forest, jungles and arid areas; industrial parks housing high hazard facilities; coastal real estate developments; projects located in wetlands, mangroves, lagoons, rivers, lakes and tidelands; projects in protected natural areas; fisheries; aquaculture; and livestock and agricultural projects.

State-regulated activities are excluded, although they may be subject to similar requirements contained in state environmental statutes.

In a major change from the previous regulation, there is now a process for exempting the need for a MIA for expansions or modifications of certain previously authorized projects when the proposed activities are not related to the process that triggered the MIA requirement in the first place, or for those not expected to impact the environment. These require either a simple agency notification to proceed or may be subject to a 10-day review period.

The procedure for evaluating the MIA has also been revamped. In place of the four levels of MIA modalities used in the past, projects are now either subject to a Particular or Regional type of MIA study. The regional scope applies to certain specific types of projects, such as industrial parks, dams, and large agricultural projects, as well as those listed in urban development plans, and those which have the potential to cause cumulative, synergistic or residual environmental impacts. The Particular scope applies to all other projects. Once a MIA is authorized, other projects sited in the same covered area, such as inside an industrial park, are only required to file a Preventative Report subject to a 20-day review period, after which the project is automatically approved absent any response from the agency.

INE has already issued guidelines for preparation and presentation of both types of MIAs, which provide detailed descriptions of the content and organization of such documents. In general, the scope and breadth of these studies are greater than in the former models. The new regulations also explicitly state that any person may prepare and submit a MIA, thus formalizing a virtually abandoned practice of requiring only INE qualified and registered MIA preparers to submit such studies. The new rule provides for penalties for those who knowingly provide false information in a MIA study.

One of the most significant changes in the new regulation is the extent of public participation and the right of the public to information about a MIA prior to its authorization. SEMARNAP will publish in print and on their web site a weekly list of the MIA applications and preventive reports received. The MIA applications will now be available for review in the SEMARNAP delegations in the state where the proposed project is to be located.

More importantly, the regulations state the right of any individual or group to request a public hearing on a project within a certain time period after the application is made public. While INE reserves the right to rule on the need for a public meeting, it seems unlikely the agency will deny these petitions under most circumstances. Project proponents are obligated to announce the meeting in general circulation publications and to organize the meeting and present the project to the community.

The results of the meeting will be made public by the agency and will be integrated into the evaluation process of the MIA. The public also has the right to submit written comments on the MIA to the agency for consideration during the evaluation process.

The timeline for evaluation and authorization for the different MIA types is clearly spelled out. In general, the agency has 10 days after receiving the application to request additional information and proceed to evaluation. If additional information is required during the evaluation process, the agency must request it within 40 days; otherwise, the evaluation must be completed in 60 days, although the agency is allowed a one-time extension of an additional 60 days.

INE may issue a complete or partial authorization, allowing the project to proceed under specified terms and conditions, or it may deny the MIA authorization. In granting the authorization the agency may require certain bonds, insurance or guaranties from the developer as conditions of the MIA approval. In addition, the project may be subject to inspections by the Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), the enforcement branch of SEMARNAP.

This new regulation and its implementation guidelines are fundamentally different from the previous procedures and warrant careful scrutiny by those planning to site projects in Mexico.

The Spanish text of the new regulation is available at MexRegs.com, an online source for Mexican environmental and health and safety regulations in both English and Spanish. The English translation is due out shortly.

If you have questions about how the new environmental impact regulations may affect your current or future projects, 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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