Brazil's Lula summons ministers as Congress seeks to dilute environmental powers

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's former President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva holds a news conference along with Former Minister of Environment Marina Silva, after casting his vote during the presidential election, in Sao Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil October 30, 2022. REUTERS/Mariana Greif/File Photo

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday summoned his environmental and indigenous affairs ministers for emergency talks after a congressional committee passed a bill gutting the ministries' environmental oversight powers.

The measure, which requires approval on the lower house floor and the Senate to pass, represents Lula's first major clash with a newly conservative Congress that saw a significant intake of right-wing lawmakers in last year's election.

"At this moment, we are being threatened," said Lula's Environment Minister Marina Silva, blaming Bolsonaro's congressional allies for going to war against her and those seeking to overhaul Brazil's climate goals. "Democracy is being threatened, environmental policy is threatened ... It's difficult to manage this situation."

Lula, a leftist, has staked his international reputation on slowing the deforestation that surged under his predecessor, far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who advocated developing the Amazon rainforest for mining and agriculture. Many of Bolsonaro's allies in Congress are determined to block Lula's efforts to ramp up environmental protections.

Committee-members in Congress late on Wednesday approved a proposal that weakened the environment ministry, by stripping it of oversight of the rural land registry, among other responsibilities. The bill also removed the ministry of Indigenous peoples' power to demarcate Indigenous lands. Both measures would pave the way for greater agricultural development, critics say.

The attempt to weaken the ministries' oversight comes after environmental regulator Ibama last week said it would block a request by state-run oil giant Petrobras to drill at the mouth of the Amazon river near Amapa state. The decision was praised by environmentalists and green activists but caused some tensions with a Lula ally who said it could have a major economic impact on local communities.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that the fossil fuel industry exacerbates catastrophic climate change and threatens global ecosystems and livelihoods.

(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Aurora Ellis)

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