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New legislation in Brazil opens up road-paving across country, threatening Amazon

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies has approved a measure that would speed up paving roads across the country, including paving a road that environmentalists have long-fought, BR-319. Environmental groups across the nation have warned of widespread deforestation if the measure passes the Senate and is signed by the president.

The measure was slipped into legislation meant to stimulate the economy by José Guimarães, a representative from the state of Ceará. Amending Brazil’s National Environmental Policy, it restricts rules that are meant to ensure a proper study of environmental impacts with regard to road building and paving. In addition, he measure gives environmental authorities only 60 days to consider a project, after which the project is automatically licensed and given the go-ahead.

Environmental groups contend that the real purpose of the measure is to pave BR-319, a road between the city of Manaus in the state of Amazonas to Porto Velho in Rondonia. The road covers 475 miles (765 kilometers). In a statement provided by 30 environmental groups they called the plan to pave BR-319 “unacceptable”.

Road paving is largest factor in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, according to the statement. Studies have shown that 75 percent of deforestation in the region has occurred along paved highways.

A few members in the Chambers attempted to remove the controversial measure, citing concern about environmental impact, but were unsuccessful.

The measure “would drastically harm Amazonas,” former environmental minister Marina Silva told the daily Brazil news source O Globo. The legislators “are carrying out scorched earth politics with environmental legislation,” she added.

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