A Brazilian court has dealt a major blow to those seeking to protect the Amazon rainforest, by reducing the amount of rainforest landowners have to restore — by an area the size of Arizona.
Brazil’s Supreme Court also upheld changes in the law that remove criminal liability for anyone who illegally cut down parts of the rainforest prior to 2008. About 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.
Congress agreed to the sweeping changes to the law back in 2012, but legal challenges had delayed the legislation until now.
The revised rules, pushed by agribusiness interests, mean that 112,000 square miles — roughly equivalent to the area of Arizona or Italy — will no longer have to be restored. Indeed farmers can now cultivate land closer to hilltops and riverbanks, both areas more susceptible to erosion after trees are cut down.
While Attorney General Grace Mendonca defended the decision, saying it struck a balance between environmental protection and economic development, environmentalists believe it will simply lead to further deforestation.
“This awards the guy who deforested, awards the guy who disobeyed the law,” Nurit Bensusan, policy coordinator at the Brazilian nongovernmental organization Instituto Socioambiental, told Reuters. “With this amnesty, you create a climate that invites deforestation in the future. It creates the impression that if you deforest today, tomorrow you’ll be handed amnesty.”
Farmers and the lobbyists working on behalf of the agriculture sector claim the decision means an industry that’s vital to Brazil’s economy can continue to grow without being bogged down in issues now over a decade old.
According to the Rainforest Foundation, the current rate of destruction is about 1 acre each second, which is a bit less than a U.S. football field. Deforestation is also impacting the rate of natural extinction, which is approximately 1 species per year. As a result of deforestation, species will become extinct at a rate 3 to 4 times higher than that.
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.