Monday, August 20, 2012

Belo Monte dam construction halted by Brazilian court

Jonathan Watts in the Guardian (UK): Opponents of the world's biggest new hydroelectric project - the Belo Monte dam in Brazil - notched up a rare victory this week, when a federal appeals court ordered construction to be suspended until indigenous groups are properly consulted about the project.

The judgment on Tuesday may prove only a temporary reprieve but it is seen as a scathing verdict on the government's efforts to rush forward with the Xingu River project in the Amazon, which - despite controversy - is one of the pillars of Brazil's efforts to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. It is also a setback for developers, led by Electrobras, which now face expensive delays or daily fines of up to R$500,000 (£166,00) if they do not comply with the court order.

About 12,000 construction workers are due to work on the dam this year, which is eventually expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity - the third biggest hydro-electric generating capacity in the world after China's Three Gorges and Brazil's Itaipu dams. But the project has faced strong legal challenges and protests by conservationists and local tribes.

The project - initially conceived during the years of Brazil's dictatorship - was supposed to have gone through an extensive environmental impact assessment before the start of construction, but judges from Brazil's regional federal tribunal have accepted a lower court ruling that Congress acted illegally in authorising the dam without due consultation with the indigenous groups that might be affected.

"The court's decision highlights the urgent need for the Brazilian government and Congress to respect the federal constitution and international agreements on prior consultations with indigenous peoples regarding projects that put their livelihoods and territories at risk. Human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests" said the author of the ruling, federal judge Souza Prudente...

Fires along the Xingu River in Brazil, from NASA

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