Argentina's New Under-Secretariat Revamps Nationwide Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Efforts
Argentina's Secretary of Environment, Romina Picolotti, has significantly strengthened the country's compliance and enforcement capability by creating a new Under-Secretariat for Control and Compliance. The new Under-Secretariat adds more than 125 new inspectors, equipping the unit with vehicles, technology, and monitoring equipment - in comparison to the original compliance staff of five sharing one computer.
Under Secretary Picolotti's direction, the Under-Secretariat is conducting an unprecedented number of inspections of industrial facilities across the country. Inspectors can issue warnings in cases of violation and offer financial and technical assistance for remediation. Secretary Picolotti has shown she will not hesitate to shut down offending facilities if remedial actions are not taken. Closures are accompanied with community outreach efforts to inform the public of the nature of the environmental and public health threats and what steps the government is taking to correct them. To date, the Under-Secretariat has inspected more than 1,000 businesses and facilities, handed down 602 citations, sentenced 270 preventive measures, and closed 63 installations.
One high profile effort of Secretary Picolotti's tenure has been the shut down of a major oil refinery operated by Royal Dutch Shell in September 2007. The refinery was closed for violating numerous environmental safety codes and for the widespread contamination observed during routine inspections. The refinery, Shell's largest in Latin America, was allowed to reopen only after the company agreed to bring its operations in Argentina into compliance with existing environmental laws and spend US$60 million in remedial actions.
Another focus of Secretary Picolotti's is her effort to carry out a major 15-year plan to clean up the Riachuelo River and its basin. The Riachuelo is an urban river system plagued by industrial contamination. It supports nearly seven million people that live on or near the river. Secretary Picolotti's plan has received national attention and focuses on basic public water and sanitation improvements, water clean up, eradication of illegal waste dumps, relocation of settlements near hazardous areas, health treatment for victims, and more vigorous regulation of the nearly 1,300 industries primarily responsible for degrading the river and surrounding areas.
Secretary Picolotti's efforts as Environment Secretary illustrate the value of environmental compliance and enforcement to achieve sustainable development. The Under-Secretariat operations and other initiatives to promote compliance and enforcement has asserted that rule of law, rather than political or economic interests, is essential to providing good governance, and that good governance, in turn, is necessary to achieving sustainable development.