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Brazil's leader vetoes portions of new forest law

Associated Press Modified: May 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm •  Published: May 25, 2012

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used a line-item veto Friday to send back parts of a congressional bill that loosened the nation's benchmark law protecting the Amazon rainforest — a veto the government said would prevent increased deforestation.

Environmentalists were not satisfied because they had called for a veto of the entire bill, known as the Forest Code, saying any weakening of the law would put the world's largest rainforest at risk. Government officials said the partial veto went far enough to keep Brazil on track in its efforts to quell the destruction of the Amazon and other biomes.

"It's the code of those who believe it's possible to produce food and preserve the environment," Agriculture Minister Jorge Ribeiro Mendes told reporters.

Mendes and other officials said the government made 12 vetos and 32 other alterations to the bill, including a requirement for large landowners to reforest land they had illegally cleared, with less stringent requirements the smaller the area involved. Rousseff long indicated she wanted a bill that was less rigorous for smaller, poor farmers and ranchers in the Amazon and elsewhere.

"The big (farmers) have vast extensions of land and have the means to recover all the areas of permanent preservation," Teixeira said.

The bill now goes back to Congress, and legislators have 30 days to override Rousseff's changes with a simple majority, which is considered unlikely.

The Amazon rainforest is considered one of the world's most important natural defenses against global warming because of its capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

About 75 percent of Brazil's emissions come from rainforest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot. That releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest emitter of the gas.

The bill revising the Forest Code passed Congress last month after more than a decade of efforts by Brazil's powerful agricultural lobby to make changes to what has been one of the world's toughest environmental laws, at least on paper. The Brazilian government until recently rarely enforced the measure, and authorities are still stymied by a lack of resources as they to police a swath of rainforest the size of the United States west of the Mississippi River.

Environmentalists said changes to the law were disastrous, as they "send a highly negative signal that will lead to more deforestation and undermine deforestation control measures," said Kenzo Juca Ferreira, with the WWF in Brasilia.

The bill as Congress passed it allowed smaller farmers and ranchers to work land closer to riverbanks and on hilltops, which environmental activists say will lead to increased deforestation. Those who support the bill, however, said it gives long-needed help to smaller Brazilian farmers forced off the land by the strong environmental restrictions on how they can work.

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