Brazil's Temer vetoes opening up Amazon, but changes likely

FILE - This Sept. 15, 2009 file photo shows a deforested area near Novo Progresso in Brazil's northern state of Para. Brazilian Preside

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — President Michel Temer has vetoed legislation that would have reduced the size of Brazil's protected environmental reserves, most of them in the Amazon region.

Temer tweeted the news of his vetoes on Monday in exchanges with supermodel Gisele Bundchen and the World Wildlife Foundation. The model had earlier tweeted Temer, imploring him to "protect mother earth" and kill the bills, which were passed by Congress last month. They would have converted around 1.4 million acres of protected land into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use.

But the apparent victory for environmental groups may be short-lived as Brazil's environment minister is working on similar legislation that is being harshly criticized by environmental groups.

In a video posted Sunday on social media, environment minister Jose Sarney Filho announced plans to create a new bill in Congress that would downgrade the level of protection of 1.1 million acres of the Amazon rainforest. The measure is designed to legalize incursions by farmers and ranchers into protected areas in the state of Para.

"We want to allow people who have been there for a long time to continue growing and developing their work," he said in the video.

The announcement comes at a time when the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests are being cut at the fastest rate in nearly a decade.

Last year, deforestation of the Amazon jumped 29 percent over the previous year, according to the government's satellite monitoring, the highest rate since 2008.

For environmental groups, the new proposed bill would increase incentives for illegal logging just like the old bills.

Until Monday, Temer had agreed to back a series of measures promoted by Congress' so-called "rural caucus" — a group of lawmakers representing rural landowners, including agribusiness and ranchers — in exchange for help passing his own agenda — and hopefully avoiding impeachment.

For the Jaime Gesisky of the WWF Temer's position has not changed. Temer's vetoes were aimed at making him seem environmentally friendly on the eve of his trip to Norway, which has invested $3 billion to combat tropical deforestation, he said.

"He is exempting himself from the responsibility," Gesisky said, "while at the same time allowing his minister to make an agreement with legislators who have interests in the region."