UPDATE: Brack accepts appointment as new environment minister

President Alan García tapped Peru’s celebrated environmentalist Antonio Brack to become Peru’s first minister of the environment.

“I am honored that Mr. Antonio Brack has accepted to be minister and he will have all my backing to do what must be done in defense of the environment,” García told reporters.

Meanwhile, debate is heating up over García’s decision to push through creation earlier this week of the new Environment Ministry on the eve of the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit.

García enacted the ministry with the stroke of his pen Wednesday by legislative decree, without approval from Congress, as a deadline loomed to meet environmental provisions included in the free trade agreement with the United States.

Some environmentalists fear the new ministry will be a recycled version of the old National Environment Council (Conam), a pseudo-authority staffed by highly competent experts, but perennially under-funded, and seemingly always lacking jurisdiction to carry out its recommendations or rulings.

Conam will be taken over by the new Environment Ministry.

But Agriculture Minister, Ismael Benavides has already said he will maintain national authority over Peru’s hydraulic resources and forestry development.

“If the newly created Ministry isn’t in charge of hydraulic resources, then it is like a tripod that has a missing leg,” Flavio Ausejo, a waterworks expert from Peru’s Catholic University, told daily Peru21.

It also remains unclear how the new Environment Ministry will divvy up responsibility with Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines for oversight, regulation and enforcement over Peru’s mining sector.

Brack, in an interview published in Thursday’s daily Correo, declined to say how large a budget he believed the new ministry would require, but said it would certainly need to be more than Conam’s annual budget of 15 million soles, or around $5 million.President George W. Bush ratified the U.S.-Peru FTA on Dec. 14 following a contentious feud in the U.S. Congress that ended only after Republicans agreed to Democratic demands to include labor union protection and environmental standards in the Peru deal, as well as in future trade pacts.

García chalked up the timing of the ministry’s creation, just as European ministers and dignitaries were arriving for a summit that will deal closely with climate change, to “coincidence.”

Congresswoman Rosa Florián has condemned the process that led to the Environment Ministry’s creation as illegal. In a letter to García’s Cabinet chief, Jorge Del Castillo, she said that the Executive can propose the creation of a new ministry, but that by law, it is solely Congress’ responsibility to debate and approve its formation. She warned that the new ministry’s rulings could face legal challenges based on its constitutionally questionable origin.

Del Castillo, who is also secretary-general of García’s ruling Aprista Party, disputed Florián’s legal interpretation.

“According to article 104 of the Constitution, the Government can create a ministry by legislative decree,” he told daily La Republica. He also told reporters that various legislative decrees have created ministries in the past, such as the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

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