The Department of the Environment (DOE) was established in September 1989 to protect the nation’s environment. The first Chief Environmental Officer was Dr. Victor Gonzalez. Soon thereafter Dr. Gonzalez was promoted to Permanent Secretary of the recently established Ministry of Tourism and the Environment at the time. During this time, Mr. Ismael Fabro was hired as DOE’s first Environmental Officer, who was quickly promoted to the second Chief Environmental Officer of the Department. He worked arduously until the DOE became a full-fledged entity with the passage of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) in November 1992; the EPA is a piece of legislation which conferred broad statutory powers on the DOE concerning a wide range of environmental issues. It is believed that the passage of the EPA was quickened by 2 events: (i)The Rio Summit of 1992 (also known as the Earth Summit is a United Nations conference held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil that focused Governments to look at global environmental issues and patterns of development) and (ii) the Hatchet Caye Incident of 1992 (an incident that was reported to have occurred near Hatchet Caye where the developer began to dynamite the barrier reef to make a channel for the navigation of marine vessels).
The EPA was, and perhaps is, one of the most peculiar piece of legislation for a few reasons:
(i) It conferred unto the Chief Environmental Officer the powers to implement the EPA and manage DOE (not the Minister), while the Minister remained as the key person in important regulatory responsibilities (eg. developing regulations, attending to appeals for NEAC’s rejection of an EIA, out-of-court settlements);
(ii) It was the first law that established “high" penalties (compared to standards at that time) for violation of the law;
(iii) It was the first law that set a minimum penalty for infractions thereof (which basically mandated the magistrates / judges the floor above which a penalty is to be set); and
(iv) It consolidated, for the first time in Belize, all issues related to Environmental Management into one law, taking into consideration existing laws such as Public Health, Wildlife Protection, Fisheries Regulations, Forest Act, etc. It however, took up issues such as Water Pollution and Solid Waste Management which were not in law nor being addressed by any agency.