In November of the year 2017, Executive Decree No. 20-2017 was published (See Official Gazette No. 228 of 11/29/2017), through which the new Environmental Assessment System of Permits and Authorizations for the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources was implemented.
The objective of this decree was to adjust the system to the economic and social reality of our country, and to the impacts of climate change, to seek its harmonization with economic growth and social development. In itself, this update involved the inclusion within the scope of application of the same, of other activities, projects, permits and authorizations, extending the scope of coverage of the decree.
The new system included, in addition to the sectoral and national investment plans and programs, and projects subject to the completion of an Environmental Impact Study, the following activities related to:
- Projects subject to environmental assessment, and environmental management programs
- Projects subject to environmental management programs based on environmental measures
- Activities, projects, works and experimental industries subject to environmental assessment for being novel, of which there is no knowledge or previous experience in relation to potential environmental impacts.
- Permits for conservation management plans of protected areas
- Permits for forest sanitation plans in protected areas
- Licenses for export of species of wild fauna and flora
- Permits for international trade in wildlife species
- Permits for international trade in marine species
- Permits for international trade in forest species
- Permits for the export of products made from wildlife species
- Authorization for scientific research
- Authorization of environmental management of vegetative material as a tool for sustainable production
- Authorization of environmental management for the use and management of terrestrial soils and ecosystems, with the exception of changes in the type of crop in the agricultural sector
- Environmental authorization for the declaration of private wild reserves in Nicaragua
- Authorization for the management and disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste and waste for all activities that were not valued or evaluated at the time.
- Authorization for the transboundary movement of hazardous waste
Decree 20-2017, introduced new definitions according to the scope of application, and also implemented the use of forms and guides for the preparation of documents and submission of applications in accordance with the different categories.
The most important change in relation to the old regulations is that Decree 20-2017 introduced two new environmental categories (Category IV and V Projects), adding in projects whose potential effects are considered to be of low environmental impact, and experimental or novel projects whose environmental effects are unknown.
The previous evaluation system (Decree No. 76-2006), was brief in terms of procedures. It established only three categories of projects, and was more like a mere classification of the type of project by category, without specifying a procedure for the evaluation of the feasibility or not of a specific project. It was limited to providing the term for the regulatory entity to carry out the technical review of the documents, and to issue the administrative resolution, either by issuing or denying the environmental authorization.
As a result, one of the most relevant changes was the inclusion of administrative procedures for the processing of authorizations in each category of the environmental assessment system, which did not exist in the previous regulation.
A very positive change, was the fact that shorter terms were established for the issuance of the administrative resolution of authorization or denial of the permit / license or authorization (as the case may be) for some categories, although longer for others. It is not, then, a uniform term, since it will depend on the category to be authorized. For example, the deadline for the issuance of the resolution of the competent authority was reduced from 240 days, which was the maximum term contemplated by the previous evaluation system, to a period of 45 days in category II projects, and 15 days in Categories III, IV and V. Only the term of the Category I projects remained undetermined, which term of approval, will depend on the complexity of the project.
Based on the foregoing, we believe that this decree has strengthened the environmental quality standards, given that it has taken the task of accurately determining the requirements and procedures to be fulfilled prior to the resolution of environmental feasibility of a project, whether it is authorized or denied.
However, we consider that the successful implementation of the new environmental assessment system will depend on the institutional strengthening that is provided to the government regulatory bodies involved, since to the extent that their institutional capacity is improved, the processes of authorization/refusal (as the case may be) will be streamlined to the same extent, contributing for an important turn in the optimization of this type of procedures, which have been characterized by being cumbersome and delayed.
Finally, we consider that the main weakness of this environmental assessment system is the capacity of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to provide a response within the deadlines established in the new evaluation system. For the rest, it is a very complete instrument to regulate the feasibility of projects that may have potential impacts on the environment.