Summary of Environmental Law in Mexico

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2 Institutional Framework for Environmental Protection


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General Structure and Duties of the Federal Public Administration

The general structure and duties of the Federal Public Administration are established in the Organic Law of the Federal Public Administration (Ley de la Administración Federal) (hereinafter Federal Administration Law). The Federal Public Administration is composed of centralized entities which include: the President, the federal Secretariats (Secretarías); the Administrative Departments (Departamentos Administrativos) and the Federal Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la República (PGR), as well as decentralized public entities, including companies with state participation.

Historical Background

Mexico's first environmental protection agencies were created in the 1970's under the former Secretariat of Health and Welfare (Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia) and the Secretariat of Human Settlements and Public Works (Secretaría de Asentamientos Humanos y Obras Públicas). Regulatory authority over environmental matters was considerably strengthened, however, in 1982, with the creation of the Secretariat of Urban Development and Ecology (Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecología (SEDUE)). In 1983 the SEDUE created the Undersecretariat of Ecology, representing the first national attempt to provide for a single agency responsible for the management of the country's protected nature areas, through the General Bureau of Parks, Reserves and Protected Ecological Areas (Dirección General de Parques, Reservas y Areas Ecológicas Protegidas).

The SEDUE was empowered to establish rules, criteria and procedures, issue permits and ecological technical standards and evaluate environmental impact assessments for the purpose of preventing and controlling environmental pollution.

In 1987, two constitutional amendments strengthened the power of state and municipal governments to enact legislation regarding environmental protection matters within their own jurisdiction. The amendment to Article 73 authorized the Congress (Congreso de la Unión) to enact laws that would establish the distinct roles of the federal, state and municipal governments in preserving and restoring the ecological balance. As for the other amendment, the one made to Article 122, it authorized the Federal District Representatives' Assembly (Asamblea de Representantes del Distrito Federal) to issue regulations aimed at preserving and protecting the environment.

In 1992, the Secretariat of Urban Development and Ecology (SEDUE) was replaced with the Secretariat of Social Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (SEDESOL)), which included two decentralized agencies: the National Institute of Ecology (Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE)) and the Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente (PROFEPA)). The By-laws of SEDESOL (Reglamento Interno de la Secretaría de Desarrollo Social) also created state delegations of the Secretariat in order to facilitate federal/local cooperation in the enforcement of environmental regulations and standards.

In December 1994, the administrative structure of the federal environmental authority was substantially reorganized through changes made to the Organic Law of Federal Public Administration (hereinafter Reform Decree). The modification created a brand new centralized environmental authority: the Secretariat of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca (SEMARNAP)). The creation of SEMARNAP did not eliminate SEDESOL, which remains in charge of social development matters. Rather, all of SEDESOL's environmental duties and agencies, including INE and PROFEPA, were transferred over to SEMARNAP pursuant to the Reform Decree. This decree also reformed the structures and duties of other administrative secretariats and transferred much of the authority over to SEMARNAP, especially in regard to natural resource conservation. For example, the Reform Decree did away with the former Fisheries Secretariat (Secretaría de Pesca) by assigning its duties to SEMARNAP; the Secretariat of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources (Secretaría de Agricultura y Recursos Hidráulicos (SARH) became the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería y Desarrollo Rural (SAGAR)). The intent of the reform was to centralize and streamline federal policy-making related to natural resource management and environmental protection in an effort to achieve sustainable development. In addition to SEMARNAP and SAGAR, the Reform Decree created a newly centralized Energy Secretariat (Secretaría de Energía (SE)), which is invested with authority over energy issues and state controlled industries, and transferred authority over mining regulation to the Secretariat of Commerce and Industrial Development (Secretaría de Comercio y Fomento Industrial (SECOFI)).

Article 32 Bis of the Organic Law of the Federal Public Administration was amended on 11 November 2000, incorporating some substantive changes to the institutional framework under the new administration of President Vicente Fox.

The new By-laws of the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Reglamento Interior de la Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales) were published in the Federal Official Gazette on 4 June 2001, to restructure the SEMARNAP. The new administrative entity, whose name is changed to the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT)), no longer has jurisdiction over fisheries, which fall under the scope of the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación (SAGARPA)).

The By-laws also create new autonomous bodies and provides for different authorities than those previously conferred, as described below.

Structure of SEMARNAT

In addition, there are several internal divisions within SEMARNAT, namely: Coordination of Citizen Participation and Transparency (Participación Social y Transparencia), Coordination of International Affairs (Asuntos Internacionales), General Legal Coordination (Coordinación General Jurídica), General Coordination for Social Communication (Comunicación Social), General Coordination of Delegations (Coordinación General de Delegaciones), the Center for Education and Training on Sustainable Development (Centro de Educación y Capacitación para el Desarrollo Sustentable), and lastly the National Commission for the Understanding and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión Nacional para el Reconocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO)), an intersecretarial agency.

Scope of SEMARNAT's Regulatory Authority

SEMARNAT's responsibilities encompass the following:
  1. Promoting the protection, restoration, and conservation of ecosystems and natural resources and environmental goods and services, with the aim at achieving sustainable usage and development;
  2. Formulating and leading national policy on natural resources;
  3. Managing and regulating the use, and promoting the sustainable development, of federal natural resources;
  4. Issuing Official Mexican Standards (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas (NOMs)) on the preservation and restoration of environmental quality, on natural ecosystems, on the sustainable use of natural resources, land and aquatic flora and fauna, wastewater discharges and mining; and on hazardous materials and hazardous and solid waste;
  5. Overseeing and providing incentives for compliance with the laws, NOMs and programs relating to natural resources and the environment, as well as imposing the applicable penalties.
  6. Proposing the establishment of protected nature areas to the federal executive branch;
  7. Organizing and managing protected nature areas;
  8. Exercising ownership over national properties held in beaches, the federal maritime land zone and sea lands;
  9. Participating in international for a with respect to matters under its jurisdiction, with the corresponding participation of the Secretariat of Foreign Relations (Secretaría de Relaciones Extranjeras (SRE)), and proposing international treaties and agreements in such matters;
  10. Promoting ecological zoning within national territory;
  11. Evaluating and reviewing environmental impact assessments (EIA) of development projects, ruling on environmental risk studies, and on programs for the prevention of accidents involving the environment;
  12. Developing, promoting and publicizing the technologies and uses required for the sustainable usage of ecosystems and environmental quality in production, service and transport processes;
  13. Promoting and undertaking programs on reforestation and ecological restoration;
  14. Assessing environmental quality and establishing and promoting an environmental information system;
  15. Developing and promoting methodologies and procedures for the economic valuation of natural resources and environmental goods and services;
  16. Leading national policies and climate change and protection of the ozone layer;
  17. Promoting citizen participation and the role of the scientific community in the development, application and oversight of environmental policy;
  18. Undertaking the forest, woodland and timber census; create, organize and manage forestry statistics; and endeavor to conserve the country's historical and notable trees;
  19. Proposing and as applicable ruling on the establishment and enforcement of timber, hunting and fishing bans, and establish the calendar for hunting and for songbirds and ornate birds;
  20. Imposing restrictions to establish the applicable provisions for the circulation or transit through national territory of wild flora and fauna species;
  21. Directing the study and works in meteorology, climatology, hydrology and geohydrology;
  22. Coordinating, developing and carrying out training projects to improve capacities in environmental matters and the sustainable use of natural resources;
  23. Organizing, managing and regulating hydrological works in national basins, waterways and riverbeds;
  24. Managing, controlling and regulating the use of nationally owned basins, waterways, springs and waters, and establishing and overseeing compliance with the particular conditions to be met by wastewater discharges;
  25. Studying, projecting, building and conserving irrigation, drying, drainage, protection and improvement works for lands, with the corresponding SAGARPA participation;
  26. Regulating and overseeing the conservation of rivers, lakes and lagoons under federal jurisdiction, in the protection of feeding basins and storm drainage works;
  27. Managing the Valley of Mexico hydrological system;
  28. Controlling rivers and other waterways and undertaking flood protection works;
  29. Organizing and managing the operation of national irrigation systems;
  30. Executing hydraulic works arising under international treaties;
  31. Participating as applicable in the provision of water to population centers and industries;
  32. Repealed.
  33. Repealed.
  34. Repealed.
  35. Participating with the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit in the determination of the general criteria for the establishment of tax and financial incentives necessary for the sustainable use of natural resources and for environmental protection;
  36. Repealed.
  37. Repealed.
  38. Repealed.
  39. Granting contracts, concessions, licenses, permits, authorizations, allocations and the recognition of rights, as the case may be, with regard to water, forestry, ecology, the exploitation of flora and fauna, beaches, the federal maritime land zone and sea lands;
  40. Designing and operating, in coordination with other agencies and entities, the adoption of economic instruments for the protection, restoration and conservation of the environment; and
  41. All others expressly attributed by law or regulation.

Autonomous Entities Under SEMARNAT

The autonomous agencies under SEMARNAT are discussed below.

National Water Commission (CNA)

The functions of the CNA are set forth in the Law of National Waters (Ley Nacional de Aguas) and the Regulations thereto, as well as in the SEMARNAT By-laws. It has jurisdiction over the use of federal waters, as well as over wastewater discharges into federal waters. Moreover, the CNA is responsible for granting and regulating concessions to private parties and assignments to government entities for the use of federal waters. In addition, it regulates and issues the NOMs that control the use of such waters. Wastewater discharges into federal waters require a permit from the CNA and must comply with the applicable NOMs. Finally, the CNA oversees investments in hydraulic infrastructure.

The CNA's structure includes the following units: A Technical Board, a General Bureau, and six administrative sub-bureaus: Management, Water Management, Operations, Planning, Construction, and Technical. Under these divisions there are Units, Management Offices and Coordinations.

Mexican Institute for Water Technology (IMTA)

The functions of the IMTA include research, development, adaptation and transfer of technology, and the performance of technological services including the promotion of technological research and development programs. It also establishes the regulatory mechanisms for standards compliance for the quality certification of products, services, equipment and machinery associated with water usage, and promotes a new water culture. It further participates in the development of NOM drafts.

The IMTA is structured as follows: a General Director, a Technical Board, and various coordinations: Water Treatment and Quality, Irrigation and Drainage Technology, Hydraulic Technology, Professional and Institutional Development, and Communication Technology, Participation and Information.

National Institute of Ecology (INE)

The basic functions of INE refer to research. It has the following key functions: to provide technical and scientific support for the development of environmental policy; to coordinate, promote and development scientific research and the development of a general policy on environmental cleanup, the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife and priority species and ecosystems, the prevention and control of pollution and the handling of hazardous materials; to prepare studies on ecological performance and environmental regulation; to develop economic, financial, tax and market instruments; to provide technical and design support for environmental policy instruments; to provide technical support for protected nature areas; to develop a system of public service for scientific environmental information; to jointly develop environmental protection instruments with academic and legal research institutions, etc.

Within the administrative structure of INE there are four General Bureaus (Direcciones Generales), as follows: Ecological Management Research and Ecosystem Conservation; Urban, Regional and Global Pollution Research; Environmental Policy and Economics Research; and the National Center for Environmental Research and Training. It also has two executive units: one for legal affairs and another for administration.

Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA)

PROFEPA is responsible for enforcing environmental laws, regulations and NOMs, as well as ensuring compliance, and handling citizen complaints on noncompliance, with the legal provisions. PROFEPA is led by an Attorney General and has four deputy attorneys general, each devoted to a different aspect of environmental enforcement: Environmental Audit, Industrial Verification, Natural Resources, and Legal Affairs. It also has various bureaus and a social communication unit. In addition, PROFEPA has state delegations that coordinate federal enforcement activities with state and municipal enforcement authorities.


Other administrative authorities with some responsibility over environmental issues include:

State Environmental Authorities

All 31 of the Mexican states have enacted their own environmental legislation and established a local entity charged with the administration of such laws. Recent reforms to the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente) (hereinafter Ecologly Law) clearly determine the competency of the states in dealing with environmental matters. In accordance with Article 7 of the Ecology Law, federate entities have jurisdiction over a wide range of environmental issues within their territories, provided no express jurisdiction has been granted to the federation. The responsibilities of the states are, amongst others:

  1. To devise and evaluate environmental policy;
  2. To make use of state environmental policy instruments, such as environmental impact statements (EIAs), in those instances not expressly reserved to the Federation;
  3. To protect and restore the environment and the ecological balance of states where express jurisdiction has not been granted to the Federation;
  4. To prevent and control air pollution from stationary and mobile sources which are not under federal jurisdiction;
  5. To establish, administer and guard natural protected areas;
  6. To regulate non-hazardous solid and industrial wastes;
  7. To monitor compliance with Official Mexican Standards (NOMs);
  8. To promote the participation of society in environmental issues;
  9. To conduct state policy on environmental information. State regulations and standards must comply with the Ecology Law and the Regulations thereunder. In the Federal District, environmental protection is governed by federal laws, as well as by several compacts issued by the Congress of the Union. The recently enacted Environmental Law of the Federal District (Ley Ambiental del Distrito Federal) is now in force in the Federal District.

Municipal Environmental Authorities

Municipal environmental authorities have jurisdiction over specific environmental issues, provided they are not reserved to the states or the federation. The municipal environmental provisions must comply with the requirements set forth in state environmental laws. Article 8 of the Ecology Law specifies the responsibilities of municipalities in regard to environmental matters, which include:

  1. Devising and assessing municipal environmental policy;
  2. Preserving and restoring the environment in zones under municipal jurisdiction;
  3. Creating ecological parks, city parks and public gardens;
  4. Enforcing legal provisions dealing with the prevention and control of air pollution;
  5. Regulating commercial and service activities that may produce noise, vibrations, light and odors that are harmful for the ecological balance;
  6. Conducting municipal policy on environmental information;
  7. Participating in the environmental impact assessment of works or activities under state control in zones under municipal jurisdiction.

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