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Activities subject to permit

Which activities require an environmental permit and how are they classified for such purposes?

Environmental licences, permits and authorisation can be classified in the following way based on the governmental order responsible for their issue:

  • federal authorities issue authorisation and permits for:
    • environmental impact assessments for large-scale projects;
    • wildlife management;
    • federal natural protected areas;
    • forest land use;
    • hazardous wastes and national waters;
    • high-risk industries;
    • infrastructure development;
    • mining operations;
    • hydraulic projects;
    • large-scale projects; and
    • projects in:
      • wetlands;
      • coastal areas; and
      • natural protected areas;
  • state authorities issue environmental licences for:
    • atmospheric emissions;
    • noise;
    • waste management;
    • water discharge; and
    • authorisations on local natural protected areas; and
  • municipal authorities issue permits for:
    • urban waste; and
    • drainage.

Issuing authority

Which authority issues permits?

The main environmental authority in Mexico is the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). It has three subsidiary agencies:

  • the National Agency for Safety, Energy and Environment (ASEA);
  • the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP); and
  • the National Water Commission (CONAGUA).

Individual states have a local counterpart to SEMARNAT and some also have separate agencies which act as environmental prosecutors. Most municipalities have a Direction of Urban Development and Environment.


What are the procedural and documentary requirements to obtain a permit?

As a general rule, those interested in obtaining an environmental permit must submit, before the corresponding authority, a description of the proposed project and explain the measures taken to comply with the applicable regulations. Technical or scientific documentation would need to be properly developed, in order to sustain the application. When the permit concerns activities on a determined plot of land, proof of ownership or possession is required; for example, this standard is required for land use change applications.

Usually, legislation sets a fixed term for authorities to issue permits and approvals (judiciary criteria may apply when a fixed term is not expressly established). The duration of these terms ranges from 20 to 60 business days depending on the nature of the application (ie, complex approvals such as environmental impact authorisations will take longer to be processed). Similarly, regulations state a term in which applicants must:

  • further elaborate on their submissions;
  • clarify information; and
  • fulfil requirements that may have been overlooked during the filing process.


Do any permit fees apply?

Yes, the Federal Law of Public Fees determines the fees for obtaining permits and approvals issued by federal authorities. Individual states have their own laws on fees or tax codes which specify the amounts due for permits. Fees are updated annually.

Validity period and renewal

What is the validity period for permits and how can they be renewed?

Environmental impact authorisations are issued for the duration of a project. Normally, SEMARNAT establishes:

  • a period for the work to be completed; and
  • a period in which operations and activities must be performed.

The first period can be deferred on previous notice. Such a request would trigger an inspection of the project by the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection to ensure that all current conditions have been met and an extension can be granted.

The following apply for other approvals:

  • authorisation to treat hazardous waste is usually valid for 10 years and can subsequently be extended;
  • licences regulating air emissions are usually issued permanently; and
  • water concessions, discharge permits and federal zone concessions are granted for between 5 and 30 years, subject to extensions.

The renewal of permits is normally granted through a simplified version of the original procedure to obtain the permit, with the sole obligation of updating the information initially submitted.


Can permits be transferred? If so, what procedure applies?

As a general rule, permits can be transferred after notifying the relevant environmental authority.


Are permit decisions subject to appeal? If so, what procedure applies?

As a general rule, both local and federal resolutions can be challenged through an administrative review filed before the authority above the one which issued the resolution in question. Alternatively, environmental resolutions can be challenged by administrative justice courts (eg, the Federal Court of Administrative Justice has a specialised panel on environmental justice).

An amparo constitutional protection suit can be filed before a federal judge against an environmental administrative resolution if fundamental rights are likely to be affected, including property rights and the freedom of work.

Individuals aggravated by an environmental resolution, including third parties, have access to a selection of actions, as long as they can prove their legitimacy to appeal. This standard is usually met when an interested party proves its vicinity or proximity to the project in question.


What are the consequences of violating permit rules and decisions?

Both the federation and individual states have an Attorney's Office for Environmental Protection, which is responsible for verifying compliance with environmental regulations. If a violation is detected, the corresponding authority may impose safety measures (eg, the suspension of activities) and penalties, which can include:

  • fines;
  • partial or total shutdown of the project; and
  • the revocation of permits.

Further, failure to comply with permits can constitute a criminal offence, which is punishable with a jail sentence.

Environmental impact assessments

Projects subject to assessment

What projects require a preliminary environmental impact assessment?

Industries which are heavily regulated and large-scale projects require an environmental impact authorisation. The General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection – which is the main piece of environmental legislation in Mexico – lists the activities and works that require environmental impact authorisation, including projects relating to:

  • hydraulic works, general means of communication, oil, gas, coal and multipurpose pipelines;
  • the oil, petrochemical, chemical, iron and steel, paper, sugar, cement and electrical industries;
  • the exploration, exploitation and extraction of precious minerals and substances;
  • the treatment, confinement or disposal of hazardous waste, including radioactive waste;
  • forest exploitation in tropical rainforests and areas containing protected species and forest plantations;
  • changes in the use of land in forest, jungle and arid areas;
  • industrial parks which perform risky activities or manipulate controlled substances;
  • real estate developments affecting coastal ecosystems;
  • works and activities in mangrove swamps, lakes, rivers, lagoons, tideland linked to the sea and littorals or areas under federal jurisdiction;
  • works in natural protected areas under federal jurisdiction; and
  • fishing, aquatic or agricultural and livestock activities endangering the preservation of one or more species or causing damage to ecosystems.

Legal regulations contain further guidelines on completing the works and activities listed above. Regulated projects must submit an environmental impact statement. In certain cases, a report may substitute an environmental impact statement when certain criteria are met.

If a project does not feature on the list above, it is important to consult local legislation to confirm whether local environmental impact authorisation is needed.

Scope of assessment

What environmental factors and risks fall within the scope of the impact assessment report?

Risks to the following are taken into consideration in an impact assessment report:

  • air;
  • water;
  • soil;
  • flora and fauna;
  • landscape; and
  • local populations.

The report must include in detail:

  • the scale of the works (ie, pollutant emissions, amount of materials required, key elements of the project, including its location and extension within the given plot);
  • whether the project complies with applicable legislation and norms;
  • the definition and characterisation of influence areas;
  • a full explanation of the environmental impact likely to take place; and
  • an assessment of the measures proposed to prevent, mitigate or compensate any impact.


Who conducts assessments?

While any individual can sign an environmental impact report, this is usually entrusted to technical experts. Some states have registers of authorised experts who can conduct assessments. In either case, the said expert is obliged to write a letter stating that the best methodologies, practices and measures were used during the assessment. Although a single individual assumes this responsibility, many experts in different fields (eg, biology, forestry engineering and environmental law) can collaborate with the assessment.

Depending on the assessed project, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources  (SEMARNAT) or its local counterpart must evaluate the impact assessment report. The National Agency for Safety, Energy and Environment evaluates assessments regarding oil and gas projects.


Are the results of impact assessments publicly available?

Yes, any person can access the assessment and its ruling, either via the SEMARNAT website or by visiting the SEMARNAT offices.


Can the results of an impact assessment be contested? If so, what procedure applies?

The results of impact assessments are administrative resolutions, which may be challenged via:

  • an administrative review filed before the authority above the one which issued the resolution;
  • a judicial claim before an environmental panel of the Federal Court of Administrative Justice; or
  • a constitutional claim, if the resolution of the assessment is considered to be against human rights (eg, the right to a clean and adequate environment).

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