Summary of Environmental Law in Mexico

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16 Environmental Management of Public Lands


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Laws and Regulations Governing Public Lands

The regulation of public lands is based on Article 27 of the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico (hereinafter Mexican Constitution) and the following laws and regulations:

  1. Organic Law of Federal Public Administration (Ley Orgánica de la Administración Pública Federal) (hereinafter Federal Administration Law);
  2. General Law of National Property (Ley General de Bienes Nacionales) (hereinafter National Property Law);
  3. General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente) (hereinafter Ecology Law);
  4. Regulation under the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection Regarding Environmental Impact (Reglamento de la Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente en Materia de Impacto Ambiental) (hereinafter EIA Regulation);
  5. Regulation under the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection Regarding Protected Nature Areas Environmental Impact (Reglamento de la Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente en Materia de Areas Naturales Protegidas);
  6. Federal Law of Monuments and Archeological, Artistic and Historical Zones (Ley Federal sobre Monumentos y Zonas Arqueológicas, Artísticas e Históricas) (hereinafter Federal Monuments Law);
  7. Regulation under the Federal Law of Monuments and Archeological, Artistic and Historical Zones (Reglamento de la Ley Federal de Monumentos y Zonas Arqueológicas, Artísticas e Históricas) (hereinafter Federal Monuments Regulation);
  8. Agrarian Law (Ley Agraria);
  9. Forestry Law (Ley Forestal);
  10. Regulation under the Forestry Law (Reglamento de la Ley Forestal);
  11. General Wildlife Law (Ley General de Vida Silvestre);
  12. Federal Oceans Law (Ley Federal del Mar);
  13. Federal Fisheries Law (Ley Federal de Pesca);
  14. National Waters Law (Ley de Aguas Nacionales);
  15. Regulation under the National Waters Law (Reglamento sobre Ley de Aguas Nacionales);
  16. Ports Law (Ley de Puertos);
  17. Regulation Regarding the Use and Exploitation of the Territorial Seas, Navigable Waters, Beaches, Federal Coastal Lands and Port Zones (Reglamento sobre el Uso y la Explotación de los Mares Territoriales, Aguas Navegables, Playas, Areas Costeras Federales y Zonas Portuarias) (hereinafter Coastal Zones Regulation);
  18. Mining Law (Ley Minera);
  19. Regulation under the Mining Law (Reglamento de la Ley Minera);
  20. Law Regulating Article 27 of the Constitution Pertaining to Petroleum (Ley Reglamentaria del Artículo 27 de la Constitución en el ramo del Petróleo) (hereinafter Petroleum Law);
  21. Electrical Power Utilities Law (Ley de Servicios Públicos de Energía Eléctrica) (hereinafter Electrical Energy Law);
  22. General Roads and Ways Law (Ley de Vías Generales de Comunicación) (hereinafter Roads and Ways Law);
  23. Rural Development Districts Law (Ley de Distritos de Desarrollo Rural); and,
  24. Soil and Water Conservation Law (Ley para la Conservación de Suelo y Agua).

Federal Public Property

Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution establishes the lands, waters and structures that make up federal public property; these include virtually all natural resources and waters, as well as an economic zone extending 200 nautical miles off the Mexican coast. Under the National Property Law federal property also includes: the land that makes up the floor and subsoil of the territorial sea and inland seawaters; real property allocated by the federal government for public service; federally owned real and personal property representing historical or artistic monuments; real and personal property representing archeological monuments; vacant lots and all real property deemed by law to be unalienable and unexpiring; lands that naturally or artificially bound the nationally owned sea, rivers, currents, lakes, lagoons or estuaries; easements, when the dominant property is any of the foregoing; federally owned personal property that cannot normally be replaced due to its nature, such as documents and office files; ethnological and paleontological pieces; flora and fauna type specimens; scientific or technical collections; arms, coin and stamp collections; archives, sound recordings, films, archive photographs, magnetic tapes and any other object containing images and sound, and artistic and historical pieces of museums; paintings, murals and sculptures, and any other artistic work incorporated or permanently affixed to federally owned real property or to the property of the decentralized agencies, the conservation of which is in the national interest; meteorites or aerolites and all mineral, metallic, rock or combined objects coming from outer space, which fall and are recovered in Mexican territory pursuant to the respective regulation.

Concessions and Authorizations

Government ownership of federal public lands is inalienable and unexpiring. The federal government may, however, grant the right to use federal public property or its natural resources through the issuance of concessions, permits and authorizations to both private and public parties. In order to receive an assignment, permit or authorization for the use of public lands, the interested party must demonstrate the need for the undertaking or use, as well as the social and economic benefits that will be produced. In order to protect the public interest, government agencies within their areas of jurisdiction may place a lien on the property or the authorization and require interested parties to make a deposit equal to the amount of the lien. Pursuant to the National Property Law, a concession may be granted for up to fifty years; however, it may be revoked if it fails to meet the purposes or the conditions originally established or if its use or exploitation harms the ecosystem lands. The Federal Attorney General (Procurador General de la República (PGR)), through the Secretariat of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación), the Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional (SEDENA)) and the Secretariat of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina (SM)), is responsible for protecting and safeguarding federal public lands.

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16.1 Institutions for Public Property Management


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The Secretariat of the Comptroller General and Administrative Development (Secretaría de la Contraloría y Desarrollo Administrativo (SECODAM))

Pursuant to changes made in the Federal Administration Law, SECODAM took on from the Secretariat of Social Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (SEDESOL)) responsibility for regulating and overseeing the conservation, rehabilitation and administration of public buildings and the management of all federal lands that are not assigned to other government agencies or entities. The SECODAM is also in charge of keeping the "general inventory" and the "public registry of federal lands, buildings and monuments."

Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT))

SEMARNAT is responsible for exercising control over the nation's beaches, federal coastal zones and lands that were once covered by the ocean. In addition, SEMARNAT administers and regulates the sustainable use and exploitation of all federal natural resources with the exception of petroleum, hydrocarbons and radioactive minerals. SEMARNAT is responsible for establishing and administering Federal Protected Nature Areas, as well as for issuing permits, licenses, concessions, authorizations and assignments for the use and exploitation of the environment, water, forests, fisheries, fauna and flora, beaches and lands in the federal coastal zones.

Secretariat of Agrarian Reform (Secretaría de la Reforma Agraria (SRA))

Pursuant to the Federal Administration Law, the National Property Law and the Agrarian Law, SRA is responsible for delimiting and managing wastelands and/or inalienable or unassignable lands.

Secretariat of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP))

SEP is responsible for the conservation, protection and maintenance of archeological, historic and artistic monuments that are deemed to be part of the nation's cultural heritage. Other government organizations created to protect the national heritage include the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia); the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature (Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura); and the National Commission of Artistic Zones and Monuments (Comisión Nacional de Zonas y Monumentos Artísticos).

Other Secretariats

While SEP, SRA and SEMARNAT are granted direct control over federal lands, other Secretariats exercise indirect control over federal lands through their respective permitting authorities. For example the Secretariat of Energy (Secretaría de Energía (SENER)) controls petroleum and radioactive reserves; the Secretariat of the Economy (Secretaría de Economía (SE)) controls mineral reserves; and the Secretariat of Communications and Transport (Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT)) is responsible for the construction of roads and other ways.

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16.2 Protected Areas and National Parks


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National System of Protected Nature Areas

The Ecology Law establishes a total of eight different types of Protected Nature Areas that fall within the National System of Protected Nature Areas, as follows:

  1. Biosphere Reserves;
  2. National Parks;
  3. Natural Monuments;
  4. Areas for the Protection of Natural Resources;
  5. Areas for the Protection of Wild Flora and Fauna;
  6. Sanctuaries;
  7. State Parks and Reserves;
  8. Ecological Conservation Zones in Urban Centers.

The first six types of Protected Nature Areas are under federal jurisdiction, while parks and ecological conservation zones and ecological conservation zones in urban centers are the responsibility of state, the Federal District and municipal authorities. It is unlawful to interrupt or alter the course of rivers or to discharge pollutants in Protected Nature Areas or their subsoil. The authority responsible for managing the Protected Nature Areas is the National Commission for Protected Nature Areas (Comisión Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP)), the activities of which are governed by the Ecology Law and its respective regulation.

Creation of Protected Nature Areas

According to information found on the CONANP web site, Mexico has the following Protected Nature Areas: 31 Biosphere Reserves, 66 National Parks, 23 Protected Flora and Fauna Areas, four National Monuments, and one Natural Resource Protection Area. Protected Nature Areas are created by the federal or state executive branch through a "declaration" which must be published in the Federal Official Gazette (Diario Oficial de la Federación). Before a given zone may be declared a Protected Nature Area, however, a number of planning steps must be carried out.

When an area has been identified as possessing the characteristics of a Protected Nature Area, a basic study must be carried out, taking into account both the biological and the social factors that justify the protection of the area. Next, the exact area to be conserved must be determined and properly zoned. At this point, SEMARNAT is required to personally notify, whenever possible, all land owners and other persons that are affected by the proposed Protected Nature Area; interested parties are given up to thirty days to submit their comments. SEMARNAT is required to consider the points of view voiced by citizens and make any adjustments that are deemed necessary to the proposed decree, which is then submitted to the executive branch before it becomes an official declaration.

Following the publication of the declaration in the Federal Official Gazette, the agency or agencies that proposed the creation of the Protected Nature Area must prepare a management program with the assistance of other federal, state or municipal authorities, within the time specified in the declaration. The management program must contain a description of the physical, biological, social and cultural characteristics of the area within a national, regional and local context, besides specifying the purpose of the reserve. All management programs must also include those applicable Official Mexican Standards (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas (NOMs)) aimed at preventing water and soil contamination and regulating the flora and the fauna, amongst others.

Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere Reserves are ecosystems inhabited by species considered to be endemic, endangered or threatened with extinction that are not significantly altered by human activity. The executive may restrict or prohibit activities that alter the Reserve's ecosystem by issuing temporary, indefinite, total or partial land use controls or restrictions, which may also apply to private land use practices within the Reserve. New human habitats in Biosphere Reserves are strictly prohibited. On the other hand, activities dealing with preservation and scientific research are allowed.

National Parks

National Parks may be created for a number of different reasons: because of the scenic beauty of an ecosystem; because of its scientific, educational, recreational or historic value; because of the existence of fauna and flora of national significance; or simply because its features favor the development of ecological tourism. National Parks are for public use and, like Biosphere Reserves, are generally reserved for recreation, tourism, research, education and conservation purposes.

Natural Monuments

Natural Monuments are those areas or places that possess a natural element of national significance warranting their protection by reason of their unique or exceptional features, esthetic interest, historic or scientific value. Natural Monuments do not possess the variety of ecosystems or the area required by other categories of Protected Nature Areas. Only scientific research, recreation, education or conservation activities are permitted in Natural Monuments.

National Parks in Mexican Marine Zones

National Marine Parks may be established in marine areas that make up part of the national territory, including beaches and federal lands in coastal zones. As is the case for other Protected Nature Areas, the use of National Marine Parks is generally limited to ecological preservation, research or study of aquatic ecosystems, as well as to recreational activities. Should the use of the natural resources of a Park be approved, it must comply with the Ecology Law, the Federal Fisheries Law (Ley Federal de Pesca), the General Wildlife Law, the Federal Oceans Law (Ley Federal del Mar) and other relevant laws and regulations. Such authorizations are also subject to the limitations set out in the declaration creating the Park.

Natural Resource Protected Areas

Natural Resource Protected Areas include a number of different types of preservation or restoration areas: forestry reserves and protected and forestry zones; restoration and forestry propagation zones; and protection zones for rivers, springs, water deposits and sources for human use and consumption.

Wild Flora and Fauna Protected Areas

Areas for the Protection of Wild Flora and Fauna are intended at preserving the habitat of wild and aquatic flora and fauna species that is necessary for their development. Such areas may be used for recreational, repopulating, scientific, preservation or sustainable exploitation purposes. The use of wild flora and fauna may be granted to local inhabitants or to other parties, provided that studies show that such use is viable. All uses must, however, comply with applicable laws and regulations, NOMs and land use limitations set out in the declaration and resolutions thereof.


Sanctuaries are natural areas with an exceptionally rich endowment of a given flora or fauna species or subspecies, or their habitat. Areas of an exceptional beauty may also be declared sanctuaries. This may be the case for gullies, natural wells, caverns and other areas with similar features.

State Parks and Reserves

State governments may establish ecological parks and reserves in accordance with their local environmental legislation. In addition, they may enter into compacts with federal authorities for the purpose of establishing common grounds for the protection of natural areas.

National Commission for Protected Nature Areas (CONANP)

CONANP is an autonomous agency under SEMARNAT, responsible for the management of Protected Nature Areas, as well as the implementation of Sustainable Regional Development Programs (Programas de Desarrollo Regional Sustentable) not only in the Protected Nature Areas but also in other priority conservation regions that do not have a protection decree.

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16.4 Protection of National Cultural Heritage


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The protection of the Nation's cultural and natural heritage is regulated primarily under the Federal Monuments Law (Ley Federal de Monumentos) and the Regulation under the Federal Monuments Law (Reglamento de Monumentos Federales). The Federal Monuments Law defines archeological monuments as real estate and property or artifacts that are vestiges of ancient cultures within the national territory. Artistic monuments are defined as real estate or property with an aesthetic value. Historical monuments are defined as real estate or property that have been part of the nation's history since the establishment of the Hispanic culture in Mexico. All archeological, artistic and historic monuments and zones are established by decrees issued by the President or by SEP and published in the Federal Official Gazette. Likewise, any change in the authorized use of an archeological, artistic or historic monument must be made by decree.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History is responsible for administering the Public Registry of Archeological and Historical Monuments and Zones (Registro Público de Zonas y Monumentos Arqueológicos) and issuing permits for the undertaking of excavation, demolition, construction, restoration or conservation activities in and around archeological or historic monuments and zones.

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