In view of recent policy changes relating to hydrocarbons and gasoline distribution via pipelines, liability for the remediation of soil and water contamination derived from hydrocarbon spills and leaks at storage terminals and pipelines has become a hot topic. These policy changes have largely been aimed at tackling criminal activities that have contributed to soil and water contamination, such as fuel and hydrocarbon theft.
President Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has already published his environmental agenda, which sets out the objectives to be met and the strategies to be implemented during his six-year term. Under the agenda, a number of regulatory changes regarding air emissions, environmental impact assessments and coastal and marine zones will be introduced. In addition, Mexico will keep working towards its goals under the Paris Agreement and its administrative offices will undergo significant changes.
In recent years, Mexico has seen the significant deterioration of its forest resources, making it one of the 10 worst countries in terms of deforestation. To combat this issue, the New General Law for Sustainable Forest Development was recently published in the Federal Official Gazette. The law is an attempt to focus Mexico's forestry regulation on better management of resources, while also safeguarding human rights and social involvement.
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources recently published a decree granting administrative benefits for the issuance of new concession titles for exploiting national waters to persons that hold a title which expired after January 1 2004. Notably, the decree allows for the issuance of new concession titles even if the zone or specific aquifer from which the original concession title was authorised to extract water is now considered a restricted or banned zone or aquifer.
The National Waters Commission recently submitted to the Federal Regulatory Betterment Commission its draft revision of the Mexican official standard which establishes the maximum permissible levels of pollutants in wastewaters discharged into national waters or properties. The draft aims to modernise the standard by including additional terms and definitions, pollutants and parameters regarding wastewater discharges into federal waters, as well as new sampling and reporting frequency obligations.
The National Agency for Industrial Safety and the Protection of the Environment in the Hydrocarbons Sector recently filed a draft emergency Mexican official standard before the Federal Regulatory Betterment Commission. The draft establishes the criteria for classifying types of special and hazardous waste derived from the hydrocarbons sector, determines which types of waste are subject to a waste management plan and details the procedures for formulating such a plan.
Following the expansion of shale oil extraction projects and the discovery of unconventional hydrocarbon deposits, the National Agency for Industrial Safety and the Protection of the Environment in the Hydrocarbons Sector recently commenced a public consultation process to enact applicable water protection guidelines. The draft guidelines provide a glimpse of the authorities' preliminary approach to shale oil projects with regard to water resources and environmental protection.
As part of its expansion of operational safety and environmental protection guidelines and administrative provisions, the National Agency for Industrial Safety and the Protection of the Environment in the Hydrocarbons Sector turned its attention to oil, gas and petrochemical pipeline transportation activities. Recently issued guidelines complement the environmental legal framework so that both environmental and personal safety are guaranteed during the lifetime of a pipeline project.
In light of its concerns regarding environmental and operational accidents arising from hydrocarbons projects, the National Agency for Industrial Safety and the Protection of the Environment in the Hydrocarbons Sector recently published the Guidelines to Carry Out the Root Cause Investigation for Incidents and Accidents. The guidelines aim to identify the root cause of an incident and determine the maintenance and preventive mechanisms that must be implemented in order to prevent such events in future.
Two important instruments were recently published which have generated a number of new environmental reporting obligations for companies involved in the hydrocarbons sector. In addition to these obligations, parties that cause an incident or spill during the execution of a project must undertake all applicable measures and actions to contain, mitigate and repair the environmental damage and contamination caused.
The Mexican hydrocarbons industry is undergoing several regulatory changes, including the introduction of new guidelines which establish insurance requirements to ensure environmental accountability. The guidelines provide specific coverage requirements depending on the type of activity conducted, which should be a step forward in effectively controlling and responding to environmental damage resulting from natural and anthropogenic causes.
In May 2016 new guidelines were published to address the significant environmental risks posed by the hydrocarbons industry and provide corresponding mitigation measures. It is hoped that the guidelines – which are binding on participants in the hydrocarbons sector – will encourage more environmentally accountable mechanisms and mitigate the types of environmental harm that the hydrocarbons industry has already caused.
Over the past few years significant progress has been made in the establishment of a national climate change framework. Most recently, the government has promoted a series of instruments and measures to meet the goals set out in the General Law for Climate Change and the commitments made at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Three judicial precedents were recently published concerning the interpretation and application of the Federal Law for Environmental Responsibility. These precedents address issues relating to the statute of limitations for filing suit for environmental responsibility, the right of civil associations to file such suits and the ability of the legislature to modify the fundamental right of access to justice under the law.
Mexico's recent structural energy reform has resulted in the creation of the Agency for Safety, Energy and Environment (ASEA), a specialised, decentralised administrative body of the Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources, dedicated to the environmental requirements of the hydrocarbons sector. The ASEA internal regulations recently came into effect, marking the formal start of ASEA's activities.
The Maritime Spills Law seeks to control and prevent the pollution or alteration of the sea caused by spillages deposited in Mexican maritime zones and outlines the events that will be considered 'spills or dumping'. These events will either be authorised or penalised under the law. The law will come into force on July 16 2014.
The Federal Environmental Liability Law has entered into force. The law is based on constitutional amendments which expressly establish direct responsibility for parties that cause damage and degradation to the environment and natural resources of Mexico. Environmental liability is a new concept under the Mexican legal system, and is separate from civil, administrative and criminal liability.
The National Climate Change Strategy was recently published in the Federal Official Gazette. Providing guidelines and policies to address the effects of climate change in Mexico, it also seeks to promote an inclusive long-term environmental policy focused on green growth by aligning goals, institutions, programmes and resources for such purposes for the next 40 years.
The draft bill for the Federal Act for Environmental Responsibility, currently under consideration by the House of Representatives, seeks to regulate liability for harm to the environment and mandate restoration and compensation for such harm. The draft act also includes alternative dispute settlement options and sets forth the general rules and requirements to file civil actions.
The Mexican Stock Exchange Market has launched a sustainability index. The index allows investors to identify companies in terms of their commitment to sustainable causes and compliance with environmental laws. It also provides an incentive for companies to engage in sustainable practices or else risk losing value and investment capital.
Two draft official standards - on waste for special treatment and hazardous waste - are expected to be approved in the coming months and will create new obligations in respect of waste management programmes. Generators of waste and other parties involved in waste handling would be well advised to start work on their management programmes.
Mexico is moving forward on climate change. The Senate has debated and approved the General Climate Change Bill which would create - among other things - a national climate change policy and an independent climate change authority. It sets out significant provisions on adaptation and mitigation, and on accessing federal and international funds for carbon capture and greenhouse gas reduction.
A constitutional amendment allowing class or representative actions on environmental matters represents a big step forward for Mexico's environmental law. The change will inevitably lead to increased exposure for individuals and entities in performing activities and securing approvals under federal environmental legislation.