Federal public prosecutors in Brazil have challenged a plan to strip protected status from 86,288 hectares of land to make way for five new dams, reports International Rivers. The challenge is set to be heard by Brazil’s Supreme Court, according to the group, which is campaigning against new hydroelectric projects in environmentally-sensitive areas.
The prosecutors, known as the Ministério Publico Federal (MPF), filed a complaint against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on the grounds that eliminating the protected areas violates Brazil’s Constitution and its environmental legislation. The lead prosecutor, Roberto Monteiro Gurgel Santos, said that the hydroelectric projects lack requisite environmental impact studies.
São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá, a pair of dams on the Tapajós river, would affect 75,000 hectares alone, including 17,800 hectares in the Amazonia National Park, 36,158 ha in the Itaituba 1 and Itaituba 2 National Forests, 856 ha in Crepori National Forest, and 19,916 hectares ha in the Tapajos Environmental Protection Area. Meanwhile 8,470 hectares would be excluded from the Mapinguari National Park for the Jirau and Santo Antônio dams on the Madeira River, and 2,188 acres would be excised from the Campos Amazônicos National Park for the Tabajara dam on the Machado River.
The order to reduce the extent of the protected areas is in question. The Rousseff Administration says the move was proposed by ICMBio, the federal environmental agency, but International Rivers says internal memos from the local staff of ICMBio “expressed direct opposition to the proposal”.
“According to them, the reduction of protected areas, in the absence of socio-economic and environmental assessments of impacts and risks, is likely to cause tremendous damage to the region’s biodiversity, including endemic and endangered species, and to the livelihoods of local populations,” said International Rivers in a statement.
Brazil is in the midst of a dam-building spree in the Amazon — some 60 hydroelectric projects are planned for the region, including the massive Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river. Brazilian construction firms are also actively pursuing projects on Amazon tributaries in neighboring countries, including Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.
Brazil says the dams represent a source of clean, renewable energy, but critics maintain the dams displace local people, disrupt fisheries, and flood large tracts of forest, contributing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.