Until the enactment of the Environmental Protection Act in 1992, Belize had no comprehensive environmental protection legislation. The Environmental Protection Act established the Department of the Environment (DOE), and entrusted it the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the Act and subsequent Regulations and to take necessary action to enforce the provisions of the Act and Regulations. The enabling legislation provides the Government with comprehesive environmental protection authority it needs in order to address modern environmental pollution problems. The Act grants the Department of the Environment broad regulatory and enforcement authority for the prevention and control of environmental pollution, conservation and management of natural resources, and environmental impact assessment. The Act became effective January 1993 and has since been amended in 1998, but much remains to be done to ensure effective implementation, including the preparation of necessary implementation regulations. The Environmental Protection Act entrusted the Department of the Environment with a broad range of functions relating to the protection of the environment, including the assessment of water pollution, the coordination of activities relating to the discharge of wastes, the licensing of activities that may cause water pollution, the registration of sources of pollution and the carrying out of research and investigations as to the causes, nature and extent of water pollution, and the necessary prevention and control measures.
The Department of the Environment is responsible for the enforcement of several Regulations made under the Environmental Protection Act. These include the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (S.I. 107 of 1995), the Environmental Protection (Effluent Limitations) Regulations (S.I. 94 of 1995) and the Pollution Regulations (S.I. 56 of 1996).
In April 2009, the Environmental Protection Act was amended primarily to provide for greater environmental control and management of the petroleum industry, to make improved provisions for the protection of the Belize Barrier Reef System, to establish an environmental management fund, to provide for out-of-court settlement in appropriate cases, and to provide for the issue of violation tickets for pollution offenses.
The Effluent Limitations Regulations came into force in 1996, and were intended to control and monitor discharges of effluent into any inland waters or the marine environment of Belize. These Regulations prohibited the discharges of effluent from new and altered point sources. The Effluent Limitations Regulations established a licensing system for discharging effluents under specific conditions. The main objective of this licensing system was to have industries improve in their treatment of effluent before discharging into the environment. The Effluent Limitations Regulations also established the requirement for the treatment of effluent, as well as limitations or standards for physical and chemical parameters to be monitored for various industries.
In August 2009, the Effluent Limitations Regulations were amended to primarily include provisions for the treatment of domestic wastewater and the categorization of Class I and II Waters that differentiate waters with unique ecological characteristics that are sensitive to impacts of domestic wastewater. This amendment also made improvements for effluent standards for both industrial and domestic effluent.
The Department of the Environment, through the Pollution Regulations, has developed mechanisms to monitor and control air, noise, water, and land pollution. These Regulations establish the prohibition of releases into the environment of contaminants, unless done so with a permit issued by the Department of the Environment and at acceptable levels of contaminants from certain installations. The Pollution Regulations also establish the prohibition of industries operating and emitting contaminants into the environment, without a permit from the DOE. Powers of the DOE to control pollution includes the requirement that owners, occupiers and other agents cleanup and abate pollution. In order to encourage voluntary compliance, the Department of the Environment is empowered to develop an environmental incentive programme, as well as a “facility environmental audit programme" as a comprehensive investigation and evaluation system designed for the detecting and preventing of violations of environmental requirements or the commission of pollution related offenses.
In June 2002, the Pollution Regulations were amended to include, among other things, issues related to the commitments made under the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances. The major changes made were the prohibition on the imports of equipment using ozone depleting substances and the establishment of a licensing system for the importation of these substances.
Again, in August 2009, the Pollution Regulations were amended basically to allow Belize to strengthen a requirement of the Montreal Protocol related to the licensing system for the importation of refrigerants into the country for data gathering purposes only. This amendment also complements the Act in addressing the petroleum industry, including refining.
The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations describe in detail the processes involved in the preparation and evaluation of environmental impact assessments (EIA). Screening of projects, programmes or activities that could have significant negative impact on the environment is done through the Environmental Impact Assessment Process, as required by the Regulations. Projects are divided into three categories as a guideline to determine what types of projects require an EIA. The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations establish the minimum content and the format required of an EIA report. A National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) is also established for the review of all EIA reports and its composition includes both Government and Non-Government representatives.
In March 2007, the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations were amended primarily to institute an Environmental Compliance Plan for approved projects, a Limited Level Environmental Study, reconstitute the membership of the NEAC, outline the Appeal Process with the establishment of a Tribunal, establish environmental application fees for projects, and to improve the Schedules with the different categories of projects.
The Hazardous Waste Regulations were developed in the light of concerns arising from the in-country and trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes. These Regulations were passed in August 2009 to address the overall management of hazardous wastes including storage, transportation, treatment and prohibitions.
The Returnable Containers Act describes the process for the collection and payment of specific deposits in regards to beverage containers by all agents or dealers. The return varies as it depends on the container as is set out in this act.
The Refrigeration Technicians (Licensing) Act 2010 was passed on April 19, 2010 but came into effect until July 1, 2010. The act provides for the registration and licensing of refrigeration and air conditioning technicians operating in Belize. Presently the Department of the Environment is responsible for the enforcement of this act.