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Environmentalists go to court to suspend auction Rio Madeira Dam Project

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By Amigos da Terra Amazonia Brasileira | São Paulo and Brasília, Dec 6 2007
Friends of the Earth - Brazilian Amazon filed a civil lawsuit on Wednesday (Dec. 5th) in the Federal Courts, requesting the suspension of the Santo Antônio Hydro Power Plant project auction, in the Madeira River (state of Rondônia, in the Amazon), scheduled for December 10th. A previous lawsuit, filed by the Federal Prosecutor Office has been ruled in favour by two of the three judges of the Federal Courts responsible for the decision and can, as soon as it is deemed possible, reverse the validity of the Madeira project.

The NGO based its lawsuit on information that was used to justify the granting of the license, last November, by IBAMA, the federal environmental agency. Official data regarding the explosion in deforestation in that particular area since the granting of the preliminary license, was also used to file the lawsuit. The Federal Prosecutor Office also questions the withdrawal of the transmission lines for the purposes of obtaining a licenses.

IBAMA granted the preliminary license on July 9th of this year, but its final judgment became public only in November. The draft, signed by the current director of licensing Messias Franco, shows that the main shortcomings identified by the organization, in March of this year (details in note 1 below), were never the subject of further investigation during later reports. Therefore, the new executive board of Ibama, which replaced the one which denied the license, was responsible for an illegal act.

“Many suggested this illegality by the time the license was granted, but now it is proved and acknowledged by Ibama itself” said Roberto Smeraldi, director of Friends of the Earth. "It seems that IBAMA attempted to delay the disclosure in order to facilitate the auction, preventing the preliminary license from being questioned. But there is still time for the courts to prevent this manipulation."

The civil suit is also justified since the reports regarding deforestation are alarming. Deforestation exploded in the project area, and especially in the municipalities that were not the object of environmental studies, which was limited only to Porto Velho. Official data from DETER (an online deforestation monitoring system), collected by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), show an increase of deforestation in the Rio Madeira basin of more than 600%, between July and September, as reported by the national press. Actions such as the official granting of the preliminary license signal illegal activity participants, such as illegal land claimants, that this is the time to reconsider their actions. "This is an irreversible impact, that can only be mitigated from now on if the justice impose the realization of serious studies in the entire area of influence”, said Smeraldi.

The judgement from Ibama staff of experts, dated March 2007, denied the preliminary license, claiming numerous failures on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) developed by the consortium Furnas/Odebrecht, and determined the realization of new studies. Similar failures were detected by independent specialists commissioned by the Public Prosecuting Office of Rondônia Sate, which were paid by the consortium in the end of 2006 (details in Note 2 below).

But the Ibama executive board was replaced, with its new members ignoring the judgment from their own staff experts, and later conducting some partial studies by external consultants, all paid by the Ministry of Energy. The preliminary license was granted some weeks later.

“This is a scandal. Political and commercial interests must not subvert a licensing process like this. If this project is indeed important for the country, it should abide to our legislation, assessing its real impacts, which are of paramount importance to determine the real costs”, comments Gustavo Pimentel, of Friends of the Earth.

A civil lawsuit by the Federal Prosecuting Office, filed last March, challenges the way the licensing process was conducted and requests that any license granted on those grounds must be cancelled. Two judges from the Federal Court in Brasília have given votes favoring the civil lawsuit. The third judge has asked for more time to analyse the issue, thus the decision is yet to be finalized.

Last Tuesday (4), more than 250 indigenous leaders from the Amazon submitted a petition to President Lula requesting the suspension of the Santo Antônio dam project. They claim that indigenous peoples were not made aware of the licensing process, despite the assessment’s certification that there are indirect impacts to many indigenous territories, and even isolated tribes.

With the auction approaching, civil society is accelerating campaigns against the dams. The Dam-Affected Movement (MAB) has scheduled public demonstrations in Porto Velho this Monday (Dec.10th). Friends of the Earth Brazil and International Rivers launched a cyber action where people can send emails to President Lula demanding a Rio Madeira free of dams. (see note 3). 

Note 1 Judgement of Ibama experts, March 2007

“Given the high level of uncertainty in the process; the identification of affected areas not considered in the Assessment; the uncertainty of the degree of impacts along with the absence of measures for mitigation and environmental controls necessary to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and the well being of communities; and the mandatory compliance with the Precaution Principle, the team experts concluded it is not possible to analyze the environmental viability of Santo Antonio and Jirau dams, which is fundamental for the realization of a new and broader Environmental Impact Assessment, both in national and trans-border territories, and the organization of new public consultations. Thus, we recommend the Preliminary License not be granted.”



Amigos Da Terra Amazonia Brasileira

Gustavo Pimentel: +55 11 3887 9369

Amigos da Terra Amazonia Brasileira Website

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