Sunday, November 28, 2021

Pena: EPA or EPEB?


OUR country is blessed with rich natural resources. As good stewards, we have to preserve this wealth for the future generations. Leading this task is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government agency responsible for the conservation, management, development, and proper use of the country's environment and natural resources.

In the performance of its mandate, the DENR enforces many environmental laws including those related to pollution prevention. Preventing pollution is a highly technical and specialized field. This job is done by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) which is a line bureau of the DENR. It is manned mostly by Engineers.

To enable the DENR to concentrate on its core mandate, there were moves in the past to create a separate agency to handle the task of enforcing environmental laws related to pollution prevention. This agency is similar to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States. Other environmental laws such as forestry and wildlife protection will be handled by the DENR whose key personnel are mostly foresters.

It was in 2010 when Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri proposed the creation of an EPA-like body. The proposed name is also Environmental Protection Agency. It will be independent of the DENR. It would have broad powers for research, standard-setting, monitoring and enforcement with regard to five environmental hazards namely air and water pollution, solid waste disposal, radiation and pesticides.

The powers, functions, duties and responsibilities of some of the DENR's line agencies such as the EMB, the Protected Wildlife, Pollution Adjudication Board and the National Water and Air Pollution Control Commission would be transferred to the EPA. In fact, the EMB might altogether be abolished or absorbed by the new agency.

The proposed EPA did not materialize. In this present congress however, bills were filed in both houses to create an enforcement bureau, but it is within the DENR. It is not an independent agency. Since last year, DENR Secretary Cimatu has been advocating for the creation of this enforcement arm. The environment chief said that the DENR lacked teeth in enforcing the country's environmental laws. Their unarmed frontline workers are being killed in the line of duty.

Last June 15, former Senator, and now Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, filed House Bill 6973 establishing the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB). This is the enforcement arm that Sec. Cimatu is pushing for. The measure is now pending with the House Committees on Government Reorganization and on Natural Resources.

At the upper house, Senator Nancy Binay filed on October 12 Senate Bill 1878, their counterpart bill creating the EPEB. If enacted, the EPEB would consolidate and harmonize all enforcement functions performed by the DENR's different bureaus and attached agencies. An Environmental and Natural Resources Law Enforcement Academy will also be established to train ENR law enforcers.

Personally, I prefer the creation of an EPA rather than an EPEB. It would be great if both are created. The EPEB will enforce all laws not covered by EPA such as those related to forestry, wildlife, fisheries, mining and protected areas. Forest rangers can be armed too.


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