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Spring 2005-13 New public policy environmental law

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Number 59
Spring 2005

New public policy environmental law

The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board is about to reinvent itself with a new organic statute. Or, is it? Despite a fast-approaching deadline, major changes and implementation delays are expected for EQB's organic statute, which may impact its effective date-set for March 22, 2005.

Act No. 416

Taking virtually all of Puerto Rico's regulated community and grassroots environmental sector by surprise, Act No. 416 of September 22, 2004, is about to become the law of the environmental land. Act No. 416 repeals and replaces the Public Policy Environmental Act, Act No. 9 of June 18, 1970, 12 P.R. Laws Ann. § 1121, a pioneering environmental public policy statute modeled after the United States' National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. § 4321. Since its 1970 debut-almost 35 years ago-Act No. 9 became a powerful tool in the quest for governmental stewardship and environmental sustainability. As such, it remained largely unchanged throughout its existence.

Act No. 9

Briefly, Act No. 9 established an environmental public policy in Puerto Rico and delegated the regulatory authority to implement such environmental public policy to the EQB, the same agency the Puerto Rico Legislature had simultaneously created. The essential purpose of Act No. 9 was to insure that environmental factors be given the same consideration as other factors in decision-making processes carried out by the Puerto Rico government. The effectiveness of the statute stemmed from its environmental impact statement requirement, which forces agencies and instrumentalities to consider the environmental effects of-and discuss the alternatives to-all proposals for major actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment.

The stated goal of Act No. 416 is to build on the virtues of Act No. 9 by bringing the new law once again to the forefront of current environmental policy. It incorporates new public accountability requirements such as the need for EQB to prepare and circulate an annual State of the Environmental Report and creates a National Digital Environmental Information System, while fine tuning the all-important environmental impact statement requirements in light of past experiences.

At press time, both the Senate Natural and Environmental Resources, and Agricultural Committees plan to revisit Act No. 416, which oddly enough was enacted without meeting public participation requirements, through Senate Bill No. 385. In essence, this measure seeks to postpone the effective date of Act No. 416 to March 22, 2006.


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