Brazilian Belo Monte Dam Halted on Judge’s Orders

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In another twist of the Belo Monte Dam saga, a Brazilian judge has ordered that work be suspended on the massive construction project. About one month ago, construction of the dam had been approved by the Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA. The federal judge, Ronaldo Desterro, said that IBAMA had granted approval for the Belo Monte project under pressure from Norte Energia (a.k.a. NESA), the dam’s contractor. The judge also cited concerns over the dam’s impact on indigenous tribes and the environment.

The Belo Monte Dam in northern Brazil would be the third largest hydro-electric dam in the world in terms of electrical output. It would span a length of 3.75 miles across the Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. It would generate more than 11,000 megawatts, which could power up to 23 million homes. The Brazilian government has hailed the project as necessary for meeting the nation’s energy demands. The project would also require clearing 588 acres of Amazon jungle, and displace around 20,000 indigenous people by flooding a 193 square mile area. It would also dry up a 62 mile stretch of the Xingu River.

The federal judge ordered the suspension of all work on the massive project, including the clearing of 588 acres of rainforest. “Instead of IBAMA being the one to conduct the process, it is NESA that — according to its own interests, needs, and timeline — is imposing on IBAMA the licensing process for Belo Monte,” said Desterro. The judge also ordered Brazil’s National Development Bank cease transferring funds to NESA.

According to Judge Desterro, officials at IBAMA did not account for 29 environmental concerns related to the project. Regardless, IBAMA had granted licensed to the project due to pressure from NESA and other government agencies, such as the Energy Ministry. It is widely suspected that the Energy Ministry forced the resignation of IBAMA’s last chief official due to his continued opposition to the Belo Monte Dam project.

This new development represents a new roadblock for the massive $17 billion project. Environmentalists can rejoice at the judge’s decision, but the Belo Monte saga is far from over. The project still has the steadfast support of Brazil’s newly elected president, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff can simply overturn Judge Desterro’s decision and force the project through to completion.

Article by David A. Gabel, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

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