Ministry of Environment (Panama)

Ministerio de Ambiente

Country

Location

Regulated area

Panama

Panama City

Environment

Useful pages on the regulator website

Key individuals

  • Milciades Concepción: Minister of Environment
  • Cindy Monge: Deputy Minister of Environment
  • Jair Urriola: General Secretary of the Ministry of Environment
  • Domiluis Dominguez: Director of Environmental Impact Study Directorate
  • Miguel Angel Flores: Director of Environmental Performance Verification Directorate
  • Dania Broce: Legal Director

Regulatory oversight

The Ministry of Environment is responsible for several duties, including the following:

  • Ensure compliance with the law, its regulations, environmental quality standards and the technical and administrative provisions assigned by law.
  • Establish standards for the protection and control of environmental quality with the participation of the corresponding competent authority in each case.
  • Issue resolutions and technical and administrative regulations for the execution of the National Environment Policy and the protection of natural, terrestrial and hydrobiological resources, in the area of its competence, monitoring its execution, to prevent environmental degradation.
  • Formulate, plan, approve and execute the National Environment Policy for the sustainable use of natural, terrestrial and hydrobiological resources, in harmony with the state’s development plans.
  • Direct, supervise and implement the state’s environmental policies, plans, strategies and programmes, with the collaboration of public and private organisations.
  • Formulate bills for due consideration of the corresponding instances.
  • Represent the country before national and international organisations, regarding its competence, and assume all the representations and functions established by the law.
  • Establish and manage terrestrial and marine protected areas as part of the environmental planning for the territory.
  • Promote citizen participation and application of the law and its regulations, in the formulation and execution of environmental policies, strategies and programmes within its competence.
  • Negotiate agreements with natural or legal persons for the development of non-profit activities.
  • Establish a registry of environmental organisations that support and intervene in environmental management.
  • Promote and facilitate the execution of environmental projects, as appropriate, through public sector and private organisations.
  • Establish and maintain cutting-edge technological mechanisms that facilitate the production of accurate and timely environmental information that contributes to the management of public policies.
  • Promote the development of activities aimed at technical and scientific environmental research, in coordination with the National Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation and other specialist institutions.
  • Provide technical support to local governments for the adequate fulfilment of the functions transferred in the framework of decentralisation.
  • Establish guidelines and terms of reference for the preparation and presentation of environmental impact statements, evaluations and studies.
  • Evaluate environmental impact studies and issue respective resolutions.
  • Authorise permits, concessions with respect to natural, terrestrial and hydrobiological resources in accordance with the applicable legal provisions; except for permits, aquatic concessions and other authorisations relating to fishing, aquaculture and mariculture, which must be coordinated with the Panama Aquatic Resources Authority.
  • Motivate the development and execution of environmental education programmes, both formal and non-formal, in coordination with the Ministry of Education and specialist institutions.
  • Establish and apply rates for the services provided to public entities, mixed or private companies, or individuals, for the development of activities for profit.
  • Establish and apply rates for the use and exploitation of renewable natural resources, in accordance with recognised, public and participatory technical and scientific parameters.
  • Establish and apply sanctions and fines in accordance with the law, regulations and complementary provisions.

Reporting and disclosure obligations

There is no integrated environmental permitting regime. There is a general environmental impact study (EIS) approval regime for projects that are mainly regulated through Executive Decree 123 of 14 August 2009, modified by Executive Decree No. 155 of 2011.

There are three categories of EIS and, depending on the category, the study will include public hearings and surveys to inform the community. An environmental management plan is prepared, and a monitoring report shall be submitted to the Ministry at agreed intervals, as established in the EIS (eg, quarterly or twice a year).

A resolution by the Ministry of Environment approving an EIS is valid for two years. During this time, the execution of the project must begin; otherwise, a new filing must be made, unless a justified petition to extend the term is filed and approved by the Ministry.

All activities that modify the regime, nature or quality of water, or that alter its channels, require prior authorisation from the Ministry of Environment. This is done through issuing a resolution that approves an EIS for the activity. In addition to the EIS, the owner of the project must obtain the right to use water or sewage discharge, through a permit, a temporary concession or a permanent concession.

The most relevant legislation on contaminated soil is Executive Decree No. 2 of 14 January 2009, which establishes the Environmental Quality Standard for Soil of various uses. This Executive Decree regulates, among others, the following issues:

  • reports on preliminary situations and soil characterisation;
  • general reference levels and microbiological activity indicators;
  • maximum permissible limits of soil contamination;
  • contaminated soil;
  • soil clean-up;
  • final report on soil clean-up;
  • procedure for sampling, preservation and analysis of contaminated soil;
  • entities responsible for environmental supervision control and audit;
  • roles and responsibilities of owners of activities, works or projects;
  • practitioners suitable for soil sampling and the preparation of the preliminary report and soil characterisation; and
  • infringements and sanctions.

Non-compliance with the following legal obligations relating to soil regulation results in a fine, the amount of which is established by administrative order:

  • failure to file in a timely manner the:
    • preliminary ground situation report;
    • land characterisation report (if required); or
    • land clean-up plan (if required);
  • failure to start clean-up actions one year after approval; and
  • reporting false information about the land.

The amount of the fine is doubled if the offence is repeated.

If an owner does not begin soil remediation with one year after approval of a clean-up plan, the activity can be suspended by the Ministry of Environment.

The Ministry of Environment can also order the cessation of any polluting activity. In addition to administrative liability, there is civil and criminal liability (Article 395, Criminal Code). The liable party is the one that causes environmental damage in breach of the law.

Environmental auditing

The promoters of a project, work or activity subject to an EIS or environmental mitigation and management programme must carry out environmental auditing to prepare and send to the Ministry of Environment the respective reports and findings establishing compliance with the environmental management plan.

Reporting requirements

The promoters of the project, work or activity must carry out environmental auditing to prepare and send to Ministry of Environment the respective reports and findings establishing compliance with the environmental management plan. It must include the frequency and detail set out in the resolution approving the EIS or the law, or both. This includes obligatory audits in cases of any incident or accident that can cause environmental damage. These reports must be certified by environmental auditors prior to submission to the Ministry of Environment.

Companies must report information to the Ministry of Environment about any environmental incidents (such as water pollution or soil contamination) and make that information available to the public.

The Ministry of Environment and other relevant authorities can monitor, inspect and control compliance with an approved EIS.

Monetary sanctions and recent behaviour

The sanctions imposed by the Ministry of Environment will correspond to the seriousness of the risk or the environmental damage generated by the infraction, whether the offender is a repeat offender, the degree of investment and the offender’s economic situation.

The Ministry of Environment has imposed fines totalling more than US$4.8 million to date in 2020 (the most recent data is available at: https://www.miambiente.gob.pa/multas-y-sanciones/).

Non-monetary sanctioning powers and behaviour

The Ministry of the Environment will order the offender to carry out, or be responsible for, the cleaning, restoration or mitigation of the environmental damage that has taken place, or pay compensation for that damage, at their own cost, according to their economic valuation and technical basis, without prejudice to the corresponding civil and criminal responsibilities.

Other administrative sanctions may be imposed by the Ministry of the Environment, such as a written warning or an order for the temporary or definitive suspension of the company’s activities, depending on the seriousness of the infraction.

Further, the Criminal Code establishes environmental criminal conduct that can be sanctioned by up to eight years' imprisonment.

Recent and upcoming developments

The new Minister of the Environment has determined to work with the Ministry of Public Security and the Prosecutor Office in the investigation and conviction of those who commit environmental crimes.

A series of draft Bills and Bills concerning environmental regulations have been presented to the National Assembly for consideration up to April 2020, for approval or dismissal. It is uncertain whether or when these reforms are likely to come into force. The main Bills and draft Bills being discussed at the National Assembly are the following:

  • the creation of environmental administrative courts that will investigate violations of environmental law, establish compensation for damage caused by violations of environmental law, and the attribution of a tribunal to issue precautionary measures to suspend or prevent actions that threaten the environment;
  • promoting the use of renewable energy in the public sector;
  • promoting and dictating norms on the recycling of used tyres and state grants or concessions relating to the collection, handling, storage, treatment and processing of used tyres;
  • creating a general law relating to water resources, their protection, use and exploitation; and
  • prohibiting the use of plastic and expanded polystyrene for single use for the consumption of food and beverages.

Challenges

In the Republic of Panama there are several environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that vary in size, scope, funding and influence. They are actively involved in, among other activities:

  • national debate and discussions with the government concerning environmental legislation;
  • participating in public hearings concerning the environmental assessment of projects;
  • drafting relevant texts and policies;
  • filing complaints before Ministry of the Environment and the Special District Attorney Office on environmental crimes; and
  • assisting individuals and organisations in the preparation of legal and constitutional actions before the Supreme Court.

The Ministry of the Environment has worked with NGOs in recent years, and other industry associations and civil society and other stakeholders, to discuss new environmental regulations.

On April 2020, the Minister of Environment held a coordination meeting with the environment ministers of Central America and the Dominican Republic, within the framework of evaluating the situation in the region in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. During his speech, he expressed the commitment of the Panamanian government relating to this crisis and explained some of the sanitary measures that have been carried out to control the pandemic. He also explained that tight controls have been maintained over protected areas with the support of the Environmental Police and Border Police, establishing checkpoints, which has resulted in a 90% drop in illegal logging and hunting crimes in recent months.

The Minister of Environment also presented to his regional counterparts some of the actions that the government has programmed for development as part of the Action Environmental Plan to activate the country in environmental matters, which include taking up the Cleaner Production (profit and loss) programme, and the review of projects postponed during the coronavirus pandemic. He stressed that he will make a comprehensive assessment of the quality of surface water of 25 watersheds (of the total of 52) and promote training on how to implement the ecological barriers to trap solids in rivers, cleaner production plans, energy saving, recycling and handling solid waste.

The Minister of Environment added that, since 1 July 2019, the current environment administration maintains an open and transparent dialogue with NGOs, foundations and civil society, for timely management of the country’s natural resources. But it is a challenge for the government to issue any new regulation, or amend existing environmental regulation, relating to implications in respect of commercial and industrial activities and, thus, to attract foreign investors and international financing.

Interacting with the regulator

The Ministry of the Environment is a professional regulator that has experienced career officials. The new Ministry and the officials who have been in charge since July 2019, when the new government took office, has significant experience in environmental matters.

The general secretary and the departmental directors at the Ministry of the Environment are known for being reasonably accessible and willing to coordinate calls and other informal means of communication as well as more formal channels. However, it should be noted that few of the officials at the Ministry of Environment speak and work in English.

The approval of environmental assessment studies may take between two and eight months, depending on the project and the category of the study.

Notes for foreign investors

There are no environmental taxes. However, there are applicable environmental fees (such as for the use of water for energy projects and for waste collection).

Panama is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was ratified by the Legislative Assembly of Panama through Law No. 10 of 12 April 1995, and the Kyoto Protocol United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Kyoto Protocol), which was ratified by the Legislative Assembly of Panama through Law No. 88 of 30 November 1998.

To implement the requirements under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, the following actions are some of those that have been taken:

  • Approval of the National Policy on Climate Change, through Executive Decree No. 35 of 26 February 2007, which adopts the principles, objectives, sub-programmes and action points of the national policy on climate change.
  • Approval of the national policy on cleaner production, through Executive Decree No. 36 of 1 March 2007.
  • Creation of the National Climate Change Committee of Panama (CONACCP) through Executive Decree No. 1 of 9 January 2009. The aim of the CONACCP is to support the Ministry of the Environment in implementing and monitoring the national climate change policy and to ensure that inter-agency coordination systems are implemented, to combine efforts to tackle climate change.
  • Through Resolution No. AG, 0583-2002, the Ministry of the Environment established the national programme on climate change, under which four sub-programmes were created for the national implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and UNFCCC, which are:
    • mitigation;
    • vulnerability and adaptation;
    • fulfilment; and
    • awareness.

Law No. 45 of 4 August 2004, modified by Law No. 57 of 2009 and regulated by Executive Decree No. 45 of 10 June 2009, regulates the emission and trading of carbon reduction certificates (CRCs). CRCs certify the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions or displacement benefits referred to in the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, duly certified by entities authorised and trained to monitor and verify them.

The Department of Revenue of the Ministry of Economy and Finance is responsible for the sale of CRCs.

Other regulators it works closely with

The key regulatory authorities in the Republic of Panama that oversee environmental issues, besides the Ministry of the Environment, include local municipalities and counties (municipios), the Special District Attorney and competent courts, in respect of crimes against the environment, and the following bodies.

Ministerio de Salud
MINSA
Ministry of Health (Panama)

Autoridad de los Recursos Acuaticos de Panama
ARAP
Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama

Ministerio de Vivienda y Ordenamiento Territorial
MIVIOT
Ministry of Housing and Territorial Planning (Panama)

Dirección General de Normas y Tecnología Industrial / Ministerio de Comercio e Industrias
DGNTI / MICI
General Directorate of Standards and Industrial Technology of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Panama)

There is also an office named the National Environmental Information System (SINIA), the objectives of which are framed in compiling, systematising and distributing environmental information relating to the Republic of Panama to agencies and dependencies, both public and private, in a suitable, truthful and timely manner, on the matters that make up the scope of SINIA.

Get unlimited access to all Latin Lawyer content