Brazilian gov't defends vetoes to forestry law

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The Brazilian government Monday defended President Dilma Rousseff's partial veto of a new forestry bill that environmentalists warned would open up the Amazon to destructive development.

In the government gazette, Rousseff's administration published its modified version of the new Forestry Code, which had been approved by Congress a month ago with the backing of the nation's agro-industrialists, and detailed the vetoes it imposed on the most controversial portions.

In all, Rousseff vetoed 12 articles and made 32 modifications to a lax environmental law that many saw as an embarrassment in the lead up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20, which Brazil is hosting in June. The amended law goes into effect immediately, though Congress still needs to ratify the changes.

The reforms to Brazil's comprehensive 1965 Forestry Code were criticized as offering a watered-down version of the original. While it preserved the requirement to protect 80 percent of forest cover in rural parts of the Amazon, it also eased restrictions and sanctions on those who broke the law.

Two key clauses the government changed were one that defined the law as being merely punitive and another that offered amnesty to farmers who had in the past illegally cleared land in protected areas.

Rousseff's modifications uphold the code's original intent to go beyond simple fines and promote the "protection and sustainable use of the forests ... in harmony with the promotion of economic development."

Environmentalists had been calling for an outright veto of the new bill. As host of the global environmental summit to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June, Brazil is expected to lead in matters of environmental protection.
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