Environmental Impact Assessment in Mexico
By: Verónica Palafox Girón
The environmental impact assessment in Mexico, according to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, is an instrument of environmental policy, whose objective is to prevent, mitigate and restore environmental damage as well as the regulation of works or activities, in order to avoid or reduce their negative impact on the environment. .
Before we continue defining what an environmental impact assessment is, we wish to digress in order to address a relevant topic for us as a Nation. Upon reviewing the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), published by the World Economic Forum, which evaluates 180 nations according to their environmental health and their ecosystems’ vitality, we find that Mexico ranks 51st, with an environmental performance score of 5.2 and a variation in the last 10 years of 7.2, the latter in general, since some aspects of our improvement have been very low, for instance: air quality it has only moved up 2 points while, in species habitat protection it has moved down 26 (if you wish to review all the evaluated items in this ranking check out https://epi.yale.edu/epi-results/2020/country/mex). The data included in the EPI comes from organizations, research institutions, academia and government agencies; it should be mentioned that data provided directly by governments is not accepted. Each piece of data is either verified by a third party or processed using the data set to which you have access, which are then audited by a third party who confirms the results’ validity.
Whoever carries out an environmental impact assessment in Mexico should not forget what Prince Charles of Wales said at the World Economic Forum in January of this year, given the deterioration that we are causing in the environment: “We must look forward to a fairer, more sustainable and more resilient future.” “If there is one critical lesson to be learned from this crisis, it is that we need to put nature at the center of how we operate.”
According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, an environmental impact assessment is much more than a process for obtaining an environmental license. Its objective is to minimize, avoid, or offset the environmental and social impact of a proposed development project. If done correctly, it can even promote sustainability in the area where the project is being deployed.
Currently, more than 100 countries have legislation that make an environmental impact assessments mandatory when it is considered that a development or project may have considerable effects on its environmental and social contexts. In some countries, there is also an indirect mandate to carry out an environmental impact assessment, for instance if the project is financed by development banks such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.
So, what is and how is the environmental impact assessment carried out in Mexico?
The General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, LGEEPA, in its latest update (published in the Official Gazette of the Federation on January 18th, 2021) defines the environmental impact assessment as the procedure through which the Ministry establishes the terms that will guide the performance of works and activities which may cause ecological imbalance or exceed the boundaries and conditions established in the applicable provisions put in place to protect the environment and preserve and restore ecosystems will be subject to, in order to avoid or minimize its negative impact on the environment.
The General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA) establishes general guidelines for the aforementioned works or activities in its 28th article; here is the list:
- Hydraulic works, general communication routes, oil pipelines, gas pipelines, coal pipelines and polyducts;
- Oil, petrochemical, chemical, steel, paper, sugar, cement and electrical industries;
- Exploration, exploitation and benefit of minerals and substances reserved to the Federation under the terms of the Mining and Regulatory Laws of Constitutional 27th Article on Nuclear Matters;
- Facilities for the treatment, confinement or disposal of hazardous waste, as well as radioactive waste;
- Forest use in tropical forests and difficult regeneration species;
- Changes in land use of forest areas, as well as in jungles and arid zones;
- Industrial parks where high-risk activities are expected to be carried out;
- Real estate developments which affect coastal ecosystems;
- Works and activities in wetlands, coastal ecosystems, lagoons, rivers, lakes and estuaries connected to the sea, as well as on their coastlines or federal zones;
- Works and activities in protected natural areas under Federal jurisdiction;
- Fishing, aquaculture or agricultural activities which may endanger the preservation of one or more species or cause damage to ecosystems, and
- Works or activities corresponding to matters of federal competence, which can cause serious and irreparable ecological imbalances, damage to public health or ecosystems, or exceed the boundaries and conditions established in the legal provisions related to the preservation of the ecological balance and the protection of the environment.
For the environmental impact assessment of a particular project to be given, it is necessary to follow a series of procedures, including a technical document or environmental impact study that explains the reasons for which the work is intended to be carried out, with data and information which justify it, with information about the changes in the environment which could be brought about by the project or which a company can bring about.
Once the projects for works or activities are authorized, the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection, PROFEPA, must verify compliance with the established terms and conditions.
Who can carry out an environmental impact study?
Environmental consultants or firms specialized in environmental services such as B+F are in charge of formulating environmental impact studies (EIA) for investment projects in various sectors and economic fields.
Environmental services consultants integrate interdisciplinary teams of specialists in various related fields to carry out the environmental impact study, which is the technical document on which the environmental impact assessment is based. This document contains a detailed description of the project, undertaking, process, technology or activity to be evaluated and indicates how it will affect resources such as water, climate, soil and also the nearby or local population, their cultural and historical values and their daily activities, including labor or community.