Last updateFri, 29 Apr 2016 3pm

Mexico’s environmental protection agencies under attack?

In an editorial in Mexico City daily El Universal, left-wing Mexican senator Alejandro Encinas has accused the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) of initiating a process to dismantle the very programs and institutions which itself has set up over the years to protect the environment in Mexico.

Specifically, Encinas points to the firing of 50 percent of Conafor (forest protection) staff members, 25 percent of the personnel of Inecc (ecology and climate control) and the replacement of 300 directors of Mexico’s nature reserves with inexperienced political flunkies.

As a result, he says, 177 protected areas covering 26 million hectares will soon be at risk, an area considered to house the fifth most important concentration of biodiversity in the world.

I found the senator’s accusations surprising, to say the least. Mexico has long-standing policies in favor of environmental protection. Could it be possible that they are under threat and why would anyone want to attack them?

I decided to ask the opinion of several environmentalists I know. All of them offered to comment on the senator’s statement, all asked to remain anonymous. Several speculated on possible causes for what seems to be going on. 

“What’s happening is terrible,” said one activist. “The government plans to do away with Profepa, the Environmental Protection Agency and remove Semarnat’s teeth. I know personally that it is dismantling all the CIVS wildlife centers in the country. These are shelters where abused or abandoned animals are cared for, rehabilitated and, when possible, returned to the wild.”

Another environmental advocate commented, “The purpose of all this seems to be the personal financial benefit of government officials. What happened was that Pemex recently created its own ecology secretariat, which, in theory, will ‘auto-regulate’ Pemex’s activities in respect to the environment. PEMEX, it seems, is interested in branching out into the oil exploration business, which is highly lucrative, but the present environmental protection laws would make exploration (especially fracking) difficult, if not impossible. So, Pemex has created its own watchdog, so to say, and the government will dismantle all other organizations related to protecting the flora, fauna and ecosystems of Mexico.”

When asked for concrete examples of the new policies, an environmental expert stated, “If you want an example, just look at Profepa, Mexico’s equivalent of the US EPA. They are now down to four inspectors for the entire state of Jalisco. They can no longer protect anything.”

Another example came from a biologist: “The director of the Selva Lacandona Reserve has just been fired to make it possible for ‘fracking’ to be started there. This will result in grave consequences for one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world and for the planet in general because it will increase the greenhouse effect. This is really a tragedy.” 

I am not sure what to make of Senator Encinas’ accusations, but it looks like there is something in the wind, something that may not be good for the environment.

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