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Latin American Region Environmental Report: Colombia Highlights (Volume III 2013)

Colombian Senator Introduces Bill to Modernize Environmental Sanctions Regime

On October 18, a bill (Proyecto de Ley N.119 Senado, sobre responsabilidad ambiental; modificatorio de la ley 1333 de 2009, “the Bill”) was introduced in the Senate to overhaul the country’s environmental risk management framework and to address perceived gaps or inconsistencies in the current environmental civil penalties law, Law No. 1333 of 2009.  (Art. 1).  Many of the proposed changes in the Bill have important antecedents in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1981 (CERCLA) in the United States, including the creation of public restoration funds similar to the Superfund Program.

The goal of the Bill is to update Colombia’s environmental sanctions and civil penalties regime by establishing rules, principles, and procedures to make entities that engage in potentially harmful activities financially responsible for endangering or damaging the environment.  The Bill would identify mechanisms through which to finance environmental remediation when the responsible party cannot be identified or determined.  The Bill would also use a carrot-and-stick approach to strengthen certain provisions of the sanctions regime, increasing both oversight and inspection capabilities on the part of the competent authority, as well as establishing incentives for cooperation during environmental investigations.  Notably, articles 14 and 29 of the bill would establish a mechanism for consent decrees, including a mechanism whereby small and medium enterprises could lower their fines in exchange for adopting supplemental environmental projects.  Finally, the Bill would prohibit persistent violators from participating in government tenders or offering products or services for public procurement and would remove them from a registry that procurement officials would be required to consult prior to contracting.  (Art. 27).

Reference Source (In Spanish):


Colombia Enacts E-waste Take-back Law

On July 19, Colombia enacted Ley 1672 (“the Law”), a comprehensive framework law on the integrated management of waste electrical and electronic products (WEEE).  Over the past three years, versions of the Law had been considered by both houses of Congress, combined into a single bill, vetoed by the president, and, finally, subjected to a reconciliation process and approved by the president.  Although the Law went into effect immediately, many of its important provisions will be fleshed out by implementing regulations.

The Law does not include a list of covered products but instead covers "all equipment that requires electric current or electromagnetic fields to function, including equipment that is necessary to generate, transmit, or measure such currents."  (Art. 4).  The Law requires producers to both establish comprehensive WEEE management programs that conform to standards established by the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible, “Minambiente”) and design products in a way that reduces or eliminates the use of hazardous substances.  (Art. 6).  The Law also creates a National WEEE Committee to work with Minambiente in a consultative capacity on the development national e-waste policies.  The Committee will include industry representatives and will assist Minambiente in tracking program implementation.  (Arts. 12-13). 

Reference Source (In Spanish):


Colombia Adopts Law on Mercury Use in Industrial Activities

On July 17, Colombia passed a law (Ley 1658, “the Law”) regulating the use, import, production, sale, management, transport, storage, final disposal, and release of mercury in industrial activities.  (Art. 1).  Colombia may have enacted the law in anticipation of the opening for signature of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.  (Art. 2).  The Law calls for the Ministries of Environment and Sustainable Development, Mining and Energy, and Health and Social and Occupational Protection to establish regulatory measures for the reduction or elimination of mercury within 10 years (5 for the mining sector) in a secure and sustainable manner for different industrial activities in the country.  (Art. 3).  The Law also adds a registry of users of mercury to Colombia’s environmental portal, SIAC.  (Art. 4).  Finally, the Law calls for the establishment of an eco-seal for mercury-free mining (“Sello Minero Ambiental Colombiano”), which would be developed by Minambiente.  (Art. 12). 

Reference Source (In Spanish):


Environmental Permitting Authority Changes Minor Modification Instructions for Hydrocarbon and Electric Permits

On August 1, the National Authority on Environmental Permits (Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales, “ANLA”) released a resolution (Resolución 0755, “the Resolution”) instructing its technical suboffices on changes to minor permit and environmental management plan modification procedures for the hydrocarbon and electric sectors.  The Resolution establishes which activities are considered minor modifications or adjustments in the ordinary course of projects submitted to ANLA and establishes an expedited procedure distinct from the normal permit modification procedure.  (Art. 1).

These minor modifications or adjustments include, but are not limited to: for the hydrocarbon sector, certain changes in seismic activity, building new flow lines within existing rights-of-way, and replacing emitting units with more efficient technology (in the case of conventional hydrocarbon exploration only); for the electric sector, these would include but not be limited to changes in the layout of equipment, systems, or buildings within licensed plants and equipment maintenance.  (Art. 1).  Prior to carrying out the activities in article 1, permit holders would be required to present to ANLA a description of the planned modification or activity, including plans or location maps with geographic references. Permit holders are required to justify why the activity falls into one of the categories in Article 1.  (Art. 2).  The Resolution does not specify how far in advance permit holders would be required to notify ANLA.

Reference Source (In Spanish):

Environment Ministry Proposes Comprehensive Management Program for Bags

On September 9, the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible, “Minambiente”) published a draft resolution (“the Draft Resolution”) to establish the Program for the Rational Use of Bags in Colombia.  Under the Draft Resolution, large commercial establishments, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as producers and distributors of bags (Art. 2), would be required to establish individual or collective management plans for bags; different requirements would apply to different types of entities.  (Arts. 4, 7-9).  The plans would be required to include goals and indicators for the reduction and environmentally sound use of plastic bags, information campaigns for consumers, substitution plans, promotion of disposable bag recycling, substitution of recycled materials for virgin materials, and annual reports to either the National Authority on Environmental Permits (Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales, “ANLA”) or, if the entity is smaller, the regional environmental authority.  (Arts. 4-6).  The Draft Resolution also proposes a staggered schedule to reach specific goals, including but not limited to, recycled content and bag strength and restrictions on size and weight at the point of sale.  (Art. 11).

Reference Source (In Spanish):


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About this Author

Madeleine Boyer Kadas, Environmental Lawyer, Beveridge & Diamond Law Firm

Maddie Kadas brings over twenty years of experience advising multinational corporations on U.S. and international environmental matters. She founded the Firm’s Austin, TX office and served as its first Managing Shareholder.

Maddie represents clients on a variety of regulatory and enforcement matters under U.S. and Texas environmental laws, with a focus on air and waste issues affecting the chemical manufacturing and petroleum refining sectors. Fluent in Spanish, Maddie assists industrial sector clients on the full range of environmental, health...