Mendoza, Beatriz Silvia et al. v. Estado Nacional et al.

[2008] File M. 1569. XL
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Residents of the Matanza-Riachulo river basin brought a class action against the National State, the Province of Buenos Aires, and the city of Buenos Aires, as well as a number of businesses, for injuries resulting from pollution of the area.

A lengthy information collecting process began in 2006. The Supreme Court of Argentina found that the governments, both national and local, had a responsibility to prevent harm from environmental contamination and to repair the damage.  The court ordered the governmental defendants to present a detailed action plan to restore the basin and prevent further contamination. The court ordered the defendant businesses to provide information about waste dumped into the river, treatment systems, and insurance for their activities. The court also granted standing to several NGOs who were interested in preserving the right to a healthy environment.

The Court found that the government had three broad objectives to pursue: (1) to improve the basin residents' quality of life; (2) to repair the existing environmental damage to the basin; and (3) to prevent future damage. The government’s duties were based on Article 117 of the National Constitution, which addresses the pollution of inter-jurisdictional environmental resources; Articles 41 and 43 of the Fundamental Law; and Law 25.675 of the General Environmental Law.

The Court ordered the River Basin Authority to set up an online public information system about the program, to regulate industrial pollution of the basin, landfills, and cleanup of the riverbanks, to expand the potable water network, and to implement effective storm drainage and sewage sanitation. Additionally, the Court held that the Authority must determine the environmental risk factors for diseases in the area. Following this, it was to develop and implement health programs to meet the needs of the at-risk population.

The Court held that transparency in the use of public funds in achieving the goals of the Plan was of fundamental importance, and that the Auditor General of the Nation must monitor the budget.

The Court held that citizens must be able to play an active role in the program. Apart from making information publicly available, there had to be a coordinator to receive suggestions, and offer information to the public.

The Court ordered the Federal Court of First Instance of Quilmes to closely monitor the program's success and to ensure its decisions were complied with. Moreover, the Court noted that the NGOs who had been granted standing would have a role in monitoring the basin and ensuring that the program was complied with.

“The restoration from and the prevention of environmental harm requires the issuance of urgent, definitive, and effective decisions. In accordance with this principle, the present decision definitely resolves the specific claim regarding restoration and prevention that has gone through this urgent and autonomous process. The decisive goal is forward-looking and fixes the general criteria required for effective compliance with the stated objective, while still respecting the methods for compliance, methods which are left to the discretionary scope of the administration. Thus, the obligation for compliance should aim at achieving results and meeting the presently described objectives, while leaving the specific procedures to carry out those objectives up to the administration’s determination.” Paragraph 15.

"Que la recomposición y prevención de daños al ambiente obliga al dictado de decisiones urgentes, definitivas y eficaces. De acuerdo con este principio, la presente sentencia resuelve de modo definitivo la específica pretensión sobre recomposición y prevención que ha tramitado por medio de este proceso urgente y autónomo. El objeto decisorio se orienta hacia el futuro y fija los criterios generales para que se cumpla efectivamente con la finalidad indicada, pero respetando el modo en que se concreta, lo que corresponde al ámbito de discrecionalidad de la administración. De tal modo, el obligado al cumplimiento deberá perseguir los resultados y cumplir los mandatos descriptos en los objetivos que se enuncian en la presente, quedando
dentro de sus facultades la determinación de los procedimientos para llevarlos a cabo." Paragraph 15.

 

"The program must pursue three simultaneous objectives, consisting of: 1) Improvement of the quality of life of the river basin inhabitants; 2) The environmental restoration of all of the river basin’s components (water, air, and soil); 3) The prevention of reasonably foreseeable harm.” Paragraph 17.

"El programa debe perseguir tres objetivos simultáneos consistentes en: 1) La mejora de calidad de vida de los habitantes de la cuenca; 2) La recomposición del ambiente en la cuenca
en todos sus componentes (agua, aire y suelos); 3) La prevención de daños con suficiente y razonable grado de predicción.” Paragraph 17.

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