Contributed by Quiroz Santroni Abogados Consultores
Talking about the Dominican Republic is to invite the reader to imagine beautiful white sand beaches, the amazing sea, permanent sun and good times. But all this is just one aspect of the island that this country shares with Haiti.
Not everyone knows that the Dominican Republic is in fact one of the strongest economies in Central America and the Caribbean. Not everyone knows that the country has experienced significant growth in the Americas over the last twenty years, reflected in the increase in gross domestic product of about 5% annually in recent times.
An appropriate legal framework, among other factors, has enabled increasingly important investment in sectors such as tourism, construction, mining, energy and free zones.
It is expected that the pressure of full development on natural resources will increase over time, so the country has made major efforts to preserve its environment through various means, including:
- Minimisation and Mitigation of the Impact of Work and Activity on the Environment
In harmony with international legal developments in the field, it was imperative to include the environmental variable in each and every one of the projects carried out by both the State and the private sector. This was done in part through the most important regulation with respect to the environment of the country, the General Law of Environment, brought into force in 2000, which established the need for environmental studies prior to the start of work or activities and comprehensive monitoring of environmental compliance.
- Increased number of protected areas
In 2004, the National System of Protected Areas was reorganised through the Law of Protected Areas and Biodiversity. Subsequently, in 2011, new protected areas of different categories and objectives were added, totalling 123 to date.
- Increased environmental monitoring
While it is still insufficient, environmental monitoring by various agencies (Environmental District Attorney’s Office and Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources) has increased. Consequently, more and more violators of environmental standards are being prosecuted, with the environmental authorities often imposing heavy fines for violations of the General Law of the Environment and Natural Resources, among other penalties.
- Sustainability as the essence of development: The National Development Strategy 2010–2030
In 2011, the Law on National Development Strategy 2010-2030 came into force. Of the four areas set out therein, two specifically provide sustainability. One of these seeks an integrating economy that is competitive and environmentally sustainable. Its counterpart seeks a society that protects the environment and natural resources via environmentally sustainable production and consumption, adapting to climate change and managing and controlling risk equity and efficiency.
- Green Taxation
The last tax reform included the first 'green tax' that aims to protect the environment by incorporating an additional tax for new vehicles according to their level of contamination.
However, there are many outstanding tasks, namely:
1. Establish a plan of territorial organisation,
2. Reach sustainability of the main economic sectors (tourism, agriculture, industry, etc.),
3. Regulate the water and sanitation sector,
4. Establish integral management disposal of residues with appropriate infrastructure systems of waste,
5. Consider incentives and disincentives (as appropriate) to promote environmental protection, among others.
With this in mind, we wonder how these initiatives and the implementation of strong environmental protection policies affect the business sector and investors of the country in general?
Alongside this vision for the country and its sustainability goal, the investor and the business sector will do their part in incorporating the environmental variable and good environmental practices into their activities. Not only is this required by the Dominican environmental legislation, but also by financial institutions (international ones are more rigorous) that monitor compliance, as well as by society in general.
The expectation of properly evaluating a project, its location, its operation, among other factors, will assure the investor of its legal and environmental feasibility long before the beginning of the investment. This tranquillity is also guaranteed by the commitment of the environmental authorities and the institutionalism achieved over the last decade.
But the legal environmental feasibility of a project is already insufficient to establish its viability and sustainability. One of the most important aspects to be considered by the interested parties is undoubtedly its adaptation to climate change.
Indeed, as an island, climate change takes first place on the environmental agenda. The biggest challenge that the Dominican Republic will face in the near future is its adaptation to the consequences of the most significant environmental impact caused by human activity: global warming.
There are many questions: how will climate change affect tourism infrastructure located in coastal areas? And the agricultural sector? etc. Finding the appropriate responses will help us to manage the expected consequences of climate change in the country: water shortages, increased intensity of extreme weather (hurricanes, rain), floods in coastal areas, displacement of population, among others.
Given this, it is clear that provision should be the rule when planning investments. In this context, the integration of an expert multidisciplinary team that has the ability to visualise and ensure a dynamic and accurate development for the project and a sustainable successful future is essential to a comprehensive assessment of plans and projects for growth, ensuring not only legal viability, but also in the economical, social and environmental aspects.
Just thinking about the big things, the soul is prepared to carry them out.
THE FIRM This compact firm was founded in 2012 and it houses one of the country's largest environmental practices. Environmental management and compliance programmes account for the firm's core expertise though its workload spans a wide range of non-contentious matters such as environmental permits, impact studies and policy matters. The practice receives a high volume of referral work and representative clients include CEMEX, Real Hotels & Resorts and Visanto Properties. In one recent standout mandate, the team acted for Playa Grande Holdings on licence and permitting matters for a high-end real estate project. The team also recently assisted a leading exporter, Rizek Cacao, with the implementation of a management and compliance programme, coupled with general environment advice.
Sources say: "For environmental issues we use the law firm Perez Quiroz Santroni. The practice is made up of young professionals that provide us with an excellent service."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Romina Santroni fronts the firm's environmental team and is described by sources as an "excellent professional with impressive knowledge of environment subjects." She is a registered environment consultant and has an extensive focus on the environmental aspects of real estate projects and mining concessions.
THE FIRM This large, full-service firm has a well-established environmental law presence, providing an array of services in this space to the likes of Fenwal International, Industrias Nigua, Induveca and Playa Grande Holdings. The four-strong team splits its work evenly between contentious and non-contentious matters. Recent work highlights includes its advice concerning environmental permits for the development of the Punta Alma tourist project. The team also represented a major consumer goods client in the successful settlement of a criminal suit in connection with an oil spill on the Camú River.
KEY INDIVIDUALS Founding partner Mary Fernández Rodríguez is regarded as a standout corporate lawyer. She has been extensively involved in the handling of environmental issues of late, having founded the firm's environment group in response to growing client demand. She has recently advised the likes of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Dominican Republic (AMCHAMDR) and ECORED in regards to policy-making and review of environmental regulations.
THE FIRM Pellerano & Herrera is one of the country's largest multidisciplinary firms and its five-strong environment team represents local and international clients in the real estate, mining and energy sectors on a wide range of environment work. The team recently advised Barrick on setting up a USD1 billion environmental remediation programme related to the Pueblo Viejo mine. It has also lately been representing Xstrata in a variety of environmental matters, including compliance, licensing and litigation work.
Sources say: "We have been working with the firm for several years and are extremely pleased with the exceptional level of service they provide. The response is quick and deadlines are respected. The team has a strong understanding of our business and the legal matters that affect it."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Luis Pellerano is the key client contact.