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Judge suspends Brazil’s monster dam: contractor ‘imposing’ its interests

Construction on Brazil’s planned mega-dam, the Belo Monte, has been ordered suspended by a federal judge, citing unmet environmental and social conditions. Just last month, the hugely controversial dam, was handed a partial license from Brazil’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA). However, the judge, Ronaldo Destêrro, found that the partial license, the first of its kind in Brazil, was granted under pressure from the dam’s contractor, Norte Energia or NESA.

“Instead of IBAMA being the one to conduct the process,” said Destêrro, “it is NESA that—according to its own interests, needs and timeline—is imposing on IBAMA the licensing process for Belo Monte.”

The judge ordered all construction, including clearing rainforest, to be halted. In addition, he ordered that the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) not transfer construction funds to Norta Energia.

“The suspension of the partial installation license is a reprieve for the people and the environment of the Xingu River Basin,” said Leila Salazar-Lopez, program director with NGO, Amazon Watch, in a press release. “This announcement is yet another confirmation that the Belo Monte Dam Complex is bad for the environment and local communities and riddled with financial risks.”

Environmentalists and indigenous rights-groups alike have opposed the $11-17 billion Belo Monte dam for its anticipated impacts on the region. Diverting the Xingu River for around 62 miles, the dam would flood nearly 200 square miles (500 square kilometers) of rainforest. An estimated 50,000 indigenous people who depend on the river would be impacted, and many forced to move. While hydropower has at times been publicized as green, dams built in the tropics have been shown to release massive amounts of the methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years.

Setbacks against the dam have been piling up recently. Even before the judge’s suspension BNDES announced it would not release funds to Norta Energia until environmental and social conditions were met. Then last week Bertin, which held a 9% share in the dam, pulled out.

Despite the setbacks the dam could very well go ahead and is being pushed aggressively by Brazil new president, Dilma Rousseff. In fact, Reuters, notes that injunctions such as the one issued by Judge Destêrro are commonly overturned in Brazil.

While the dam is arguably the world’s most opposed hydroelectric project—recently 600,000 people from around the world signed a petition against it—Brazil says the dam must be built to meet the rising nation’s power needs. The dam will provide enough energy to power 23 million homes, yet during three to four months of the year it will run on only 10-30% capacity due to low waters.

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Half a million people sign petition against Belo Monte, Brazilian mega-dam

(02/08/2011) In a protest today in Brasilia, Brazil, indigenous people delivered a petition to authorities signed by 500,000 people calling on them to cancel the controversial Belo Monte dam. They hope the petition, organized by online activist group Avaaz, will help convince Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the project. However, actions by Brazil’s first female president have pushed the dam forward.

Chief financier of Belo Monte dam ties social and environmental requirements to controversial project

(02/04/2011) The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) has announced it will not grant a $640 million loan for the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam until 40 social and environmental conditions are met. In response, the company contracted to build the dam, Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA), has stated it may drop the bank’s loan altogether and seek less discriminating private funding to start construction. Last week the Brazilian government’s environmental agency IBAMA announced that the dam had been granted a partial license, an aberration in Brazilian law, to jumpstart construction. But BNDES also says it will not hand out the loan until a full license is granted.

Despite fierce opposition, work begins on Belo Monte dam

(01/27/2011) Arguably the most opposed dam project in the world received the go-ahead this week, reports the BBC. Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, has approved the first step of the massive hydroelectric project: clearing 588 acres of rainforest in the Amazon, although the dam would flood nearly 200 square miles (500 square kilometers) of forest.

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