Summary of Environmental Law in Mexico

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5 Environmental Information

 

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5.1 Public Access to Environmental Information

 

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Constitutional Provisions

Although the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico (hereinafter Mexican Constitution) recognizes that the State must guarantee information, it does not specifically recognize access to information or the means by which it may be accessed.

Public access to information is addressed in Articles 6 and 8 of the Mexican Constitution. Article 6 asserts that access to information is a right guaranteed by the State. As for Article 8, it requires that public officials and employees respect the right of the people to obtain information within in a brief time period, provided the request is made in writing and submitted in a "peaceful and respectful manner." Upon receiving a request, authorities must at all times issue a written answer.

The Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Governmental Public Information (Ley Federal del Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública Gubernamental) was published in the Federal Official Gazette on 11 June 2002, intended to guarantee the right to access information kept by the executive, legislative or judicial branches or by any state, especially with regard to public affairs.

Under the law, information may be accessed in two ways: through the State's obligation to disclose information to the public on relevant matters, and through citizens' rights to obtain governmental information.

General Public Access to Environmental Information

In accordance with Article 159 Bis 3 of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente) (hereinafter Ecology Law), all citizens have the right to require that federal, state and municipal environmental authorities provide them with the environmental information they may request within a period of time not to exceed twenty days. Any cost incurred is charged to the applicant. However, Article 159 Bis 4 of the Ecology Law lists the exceptions by which environmental authorities may deny providing the requested information, or part of it, whenever such information is confidential and in such cases where the information relates to pending legal proceedings or process technologies. The authority's negative, incomplete, or not precise answer may be challenged by citizens through the appeal of review contemplated under Article 176 of the Ecology Law, and regulated under Title Sixth of the Federal Law for Administrative Procedures (Ley Federal del Procedimiento Administrativo).

It should be noted that there are various laws containing provisions on access to information, including environmental information. These include the Forestry Law (Ley Forestal), the General Wildlife Law (Ley General de Vida Silvestre), the Law of National Waters (Ley de Aguas Nacionales), the Fisheries Law (Ley de Pesca) and the General Health Law (Ley General de Salud).

National System of Environmental and Natural Resources Information

The access to information right is contemplated under Article 159 Bis of the Ecology Law. One of the main instruments for accessing environmental information is the National System of Environmental and Natural Resources Information (Sistema Nacional de Información Ambiental y de Recursos Naturales). This system provides access to natural resources inventories, as well as data pertaining to the monitoring of air, water and soil quality, besides providing access to scientific and academic reports and technical papers on environmental issues. This system is to be complemented with the National Accounts System under the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI)).

The National System of Environmental and Natural Resource Information has, until now, been developing only isolated systems for the analysis, formulation, execution and assessment of environmental policies. These systems operate independently, generally without regard to compatibility or integration to enable effective information sharing, processing, analysis, transfer and reporting. These systems may be accessed by Internet.

SEMARNAT.gob.mx/" target="_blank">SEMARNAT recently included on its web page a database referring to the System, in which topics relating to water, air, protected nature areas, biodiversity, forest resources, soil, wildlife, ecological affairs and the legal framework regarding the environment may be searched. However, this database includes only information from SEMARNAT and its autonomous and decentralized agencies, and not from other entities involved in environmental matters.

Other Sources of Environmental Information

In addition, there exist in Mexico other sources of environmental information, especially the Ecological Gazette (Gaceta Ecológica) which is published by SEMARNAT through the INE; the Gazette is published on a quarterly basis and contains legal provisions, Official Mexican Standards (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas (NOMs)), decrees, regulations, agreements and other administrative acts. On the other hand, SEMARNAT publishes twice a year a Report on the Outlook Regarding the Ecological Balance and the Protection of the Environment (Situación General en Materia de Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente). The Federal Official Gazette (Diario Oficial de la Federación) is another source for the dissemination of environmental information. SEMARNAT also enters into agreements with media for the dissemination of environmental information through communication mass media. Lastly, SEMARNAT also has been holding national and regional environmental information fairs, in which various sectors of society involved in the environment and natural resources have participated. Participants include universities, government departments, nongovernmental organizations, private organizations, research centers, and others.

Right to Request a Technical Report from SEMARNAT

Article 204 of the Ecology Law provides the right to request from SEMARNAT that a technical opinion or report be prepared. The Law states that when damages or injuries have been caused due to violations of the Ecology Law, the aggrieved party or interested parties may request SEMARNAT to prepare a technical report or technical opinion which may be introduced as evidence before civil courts.

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5.2 Industry Reporting Requirements

 

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Mexico has an extensive regime of industrial reporting requirements pertaining to environmental protection. General reporting requirements are set forth in the Ecology Law and the regulations thereunder.

Air Protection Requirements

See Chapter 8, "Protection of the Atmosphere" for a more comprehensive discussion of air protection provisions. Responsible parties are obliged to provide inspectors with any information that may assist the government in determining compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Federal reporting requirements apply to operating licenses; permits for open air burns; permits for hazardous waste incineration; industrial questionnaires; air release inventories; operation schedules; records of emissions monitoring and boiler permits and logs.

Water Use and Discharge Requirements

See Chapter 9, "Protection and Management of Water Resources" for a more comprehensive discussion of water protection provisions. Reporting requirements for water use and wastewater discharges are established in the Ecology Law and the National Waters Law and the Regulation thereunder (Ley de Aguas Nacionales y su Reglamento); in addition, the following are required: applications for water use concessions and assignments; permits for wastewater discharges; water use monitoring and metering; registry of rights for the use of national waters; feasibility studies and work projects; wastewater discharge registry; wastewater discharge monitoring and notices; wastewater testing; schedule wastewater discharge treatment; and permission to drill in protected ground waters.

Hazardous Waste Reporting Requirements

See Chapter 12, "Waste Management" for a more comprehensive discussion of waste management provisions. Reporting requirements regarding waste management are established in the Ecology Law and the Regulation under the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection Regarding Hazardous Waste (Reglamento de la Ley General del Equilibrio Ecológico y la Protección al Ambiente en Materia de Residuos Peligrosos) (hereinafter Hazardous Waste Regulation). Responsible parties are obliged to provide inspectors with any information that may assist the government in determining compliance with environmental laws and regulations. The reporting requirements regarding the management of hazardous wastes include: application for authorization to generate, handle, import or export hazardous wastes; registration in the hazardous waste generator registry; registry of vehicles used to transport hazardous wastes; completion of hazardous waste generator manifests; movement of hazardous wastes from temporary storage facilities; final disposal of hazardous wastes; and preparation of a semi-annual report documenting the movement of hazardous wastes.

Other Reporting Requirements

There are other reporting requirements dealing with workplace safety, pesticides, fertilizers and toxic substances. Please refer to the corresponding chapters in this Report for an overview of these requirements.

It is important to note that the Ecology Law underwent a major reform on 31 December 2001, establishing in Article 109 Bis that SEMARNAT and the state, Federal District and municipal authorities have the obligation to create a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) on air, water, soil and subsoil pollutants and materials and waste under their respective jurisdictions. Under the provision, the PRTR is to be created with the data and documents contained in the environmental authorizations, certificates, reports, licenses, permits and concessions processed with the respective authorities.

Individuals and entities responsible for pollutant sources have the obligation to provide the necessary information to integrate the register, which shall be public.

Another amendment (Article 159 Bis) requires the states, municipalities and the Federal District to participate, along with SEMARNAT, in integrating the National Environmental and Natural Resource System, which previously was the sole responsibility of the federal Secretariat.

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2003