Argentina focuses on building its economy, largely ignoring the environmental consequences. With the exception of legislation governing the national parks system, there is virtually no legal framework regulating the use of natural resources. Industrial activity spreads to the interior and the pampas, the vast grassy plains of northern Argentina.
Successive governments are more concerned with political and economic issues than environmental ones. Deforestation, poor management of agricultural lands, and air pollution all contribute to environmental degradation. Mines, smelters, and petroleum wells generate a considerable amount of pollution. Refineries contaminate groundwater and underground aquifers, affecting farming.
Industrial water pollution becomes Argentina's largest environmental problem. The Plata River in particular serves as the major dumping ground for highly toxic chemical waste. The fragmentary nature of government's limited environmental policies hinders the development of a uniform conservation strategy.
The oil and gas industry becomes a major polluter. Oil wells are not shut down properly, gas flaring is common, and leaks are rarely cleaned up. The government creates the Federal Environment Council (COFEMA), but it remains largely ineffective as its provincial representatives rarely succeed in reaching a consensus.
President Menem's administration tackles environmental concerns during an economically stable period. Legislation requires the oil and gas industry to conduct environmental studies and develop plans for environmental protection. The Directorate of Natural Resources cooperates closely with industry to implement these laws. Provincial authorities begin to play a role in monitoring local compliance.
The national agenda addresses environmental concerns with the inclusion of environmental protection clauses in the amended Constitution. The Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur) agreement seeks to harmonize environmental legislation in member countries. But overlapping jurisdictions and a long history of tension between federal and provincial governments makes enforcement difficult and rare.
Argentina emerges as a leader in Latin America regarding air pollution, voluntarily committing to setting specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But enforcement of environmental laws remains virtually nonexistent. Municipal governments are still able to sidestep provincial and federal regulations by extending pollution "credits" to private corporations.
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