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Brazil lower house passes reforms easing restrictions on deforestation

The Brazil House of Deputies [official website, in Portuguese] passed reforms to the the country's forest code Tuesday that ease restrictions on deforestation and provide amnesty for prior deforestation violations. The amended code would allow [press release, in Portuguese] small farmers to cut down trees on hilltops and along rivers, two areas that were previously protected. It would also provide farmers with amnesty for violations of the forest code prior to July 22, 2008. The amendments were mainly pushed [BBC report] by Alldo Rebelo, head of the Communist Party of Brazil [official websites, in Portuguese], who argues [press release, in Portuguese] that the restrictions are disproportionately hurting small-scale farmers. The amendments still have to be passed by the Senate, where they are expected to meet tough opposition, and not be vetoed by President Dilma Rousseff [official websites, in Portuguese] before taking effect. A group of 10 former environmental ministers sent a letter dated May 23 [text, in Portuguese] to the president urging a balanced approach to environmental regulation that will promote both the agricultural industry and environmental sustainability.

The amendments to the forest code are the latest in Brazilian initiatives that attempt to find a balance between economic development and environmental concerns over Amazon deforestation. In June 2009, then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva [official profile, in Portuguese] approved a controversial measure [JURIST report] that would allow legal privatization of publicly held Amazon land. The measure was aimed at stabilizing ownership of nearly 260,000 square miles of Amazon land, the contested ownership of which has sparked violence in the region. Da Silva vetoed sections of the bill, which some critics, including legislators [letter, text], environmentalists [Greenpeace press release, in Portuguese], and state prosecutors, had argued unjustly rewarded illegal land grabs and failed to distinguish between small farmers and large corporate and absentee landlords. Earlier in June 2009, the government announced [Reuters report] a program to pay farmers in the Amazon to reforest cleared land. IN 2008, Brazil set a goal to reduce Amazon deforestation by 70 percent [BBC report] over the next 10 years.

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