Rachel's Precaution Reporter #49  [Printer-friendly version]
August 2, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In 2004, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
passed an exemplary law embodying the precautionary principle. Law
416 shows how precaution can go beyond narrow uses, such as municipal
purchasing policies and control of pesticides, to embody a rich, well-
rounded philosophy for conducting human affairs in a respectful

By Peter Montague

On Sept. 22, 2004, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico adopted the
precautionary principle in Law 416, which is Section 4 of the
Environmental Public Policy Act. The law requires all govermnental
entities in Puerto Rico to use the precautionary principle in

Law 416 originated with a young lawyer, Esteban Mujica-Cotto, who was
then the head of Puerto Rico's Environmental Quality Board. Mr.
Mujica-Cotto is now active with the Coalicion para el Desarrollo
Sostenible, Inc. (Coalition for Sustainable Development).

From our web site, you can retrieve the full 87-page text of Law 416
in Spanish (10 megabytes PDF), or just the first 5 articles of the
law in Spanish or English.

We asked Carolyn Raffensperger, a lawyer and the world's leading
advocate for the precautionary principle, to give us her assessment of
Puerto Rico's Law 416. Here is what she told us:

1) Law 416 is quite wonderful. It embodies a fully modern version of
precaution, including reversing the burden of proof (this appears
twice -- actual reversal and polluter pays), alternatives assessment,
and democratic decision-making. It asserts a responsbility to future
generations. Note that it blends the Wingspread Statement and
Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration. It uses the democracy language
and the other how-to steps from the Wingspread statement, combined
with the Rio definition of precaution.

2) In spite of its anthropocentric language, it specifies the
necessary science as a) interdisciplinary and b) ecological. This is
refreshing, not to rely only on toxicology.

3) It includes the notion of restoration as well as preventing harm
and eliminating harm. These are three strong concepts. It's not just
preventing but also eliminating the harms we already have and
restoring the environment.

4) It identifies multiple sources of harm, including human population
and technological advances, not merely toxic chemicals. The
implication is that population and advanced technologies both have the
potential to disrupt the harmony between humans and the environment.
So perhaps Puerto Rico and Europe are going to be the leading
jurisdictions paying attention to new developments such as

5) It recognizes the right to enjoy (and to some extent the obligation
to maintain) a healthy environment.

6) It specifies cultural and aesthetic values -- not just the
scientifically established toxicological values (e.g. it goes way
beyond "let's not poison people"). This means that people can be clear
about what they love. This enlivens the democracy clause.

7) The progress desired under the goals is SOCIAL progress. The
economic driver is employment -- not just making corporations rich.

8) It requires the long view, as well as the short term perspective.
This reinforces the obligation to future generations.

9) It situates Puerto Rico within the larger world. The language "to
maximize international cooperation by anticipating and avoiding the
deterioration of the quality of the worldwide environment" is
wonderful. Can you imagine all 50 states adopting that language and
then acting on policies to mazimize international cooperation to
anticipate and avoid deterioration?

10) And it drills down to the smaller political entities --
municipalities, institutions and individuals -- embedding precaution
in the smallest units of action.

Like California's Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA), the city
and county of San Francisco, and other early adopters of the
precautionary principle, Puerto Rico must now fully implement the
principle -- and that's the hard part.

If Puerto Rico takes this law seriously, it will become a world leader
in environmental protection. We are eagerly watching their next steps.
All together, Puerto Rico has written and adopted an exemplary set of
far-reaching principles embodied in the precautionary approach,
Raffensperger said.