How Bolsonaro reduced enforcement of environmental laws

A report by the Federal Court of Auditors has found that the weakening of the federal environment agency Ibama under the Jair Bolsonaro administration has increased the risk of impunity for environmental crimes by failing to impose fines.

After Mr. Bolsonaro took office in 2019, his administration created new rules to supposedly speed up the process of environmental inspections, allowing for a conciliation process before imposing fines.

However, a report released last week states “that in 2019 and 2020 there were virtually no conciliation hearings. In 2019, this was due to the lack of complementary regulations. In 2020, only five hearings took place, in February, as “pilots” to test “the newly created rules.

Ibama told the auditors that the pandemic made it impossible to hold new hearings in 2020, as its employees began working remotely and the institution was not ready to hold those hearings virtually. In 2021, 1,103 hearings took place.

The report also shows a decrease in the number of environmental inspections and the proportion of these that result in a lawsuit. In 2019, the first year of the Bolsonaro administration, for every 100 cases opened against transgressors, some 96 were brought to justice. In 2021, this ratio fell to 37%.

The Federal Court of Auditors attributes at least part of this drop in efficiency to another change in the rules. Previously, three different authorities could judge fines, but in 2020 “the [Ibama] the State superintendent became the only competent authority (…) which represented a drastic reduction in the operational capacity of this activity.

Ibama also informed the court that he does not set goals for each superintendency. The report recommends that the agency adopt “definitions of expected results”.

Current rules increase the risk of impunity by making it more likely that unenforced fines will reach the statute of limitations.

Back in May, The Brazilian report showed that tens of thousands of environmental fines were due to expire this year. Data from protection agencies shows the government would need ten times as many workers to properly enforce environmental controls.