Brazilian Judge Overturns Amazon Dam Suspension

Just two weeks after a regional judge halted construction on the world’s third largest dam in the Amazon rainforest, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge unilaterally overtuned that decision.

The decision apparently came after multiple meetings with high level Brazilian government officials who pressured the judge to let the project continue.  

A complaint filed by Brazil’s Attorney General’s office argues that dam construction must continue because the 14,000 workers hired for the project would otherwise be laid off. Ironically, it ignores the permanent impact the dam would have on thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on an intact ecosystem. 

The Belo Monte dam project was stopped in mid-August when a regional judge ruled that indigenous people were not consulted before approving the dam, which is required by law.

The environmental impact assessment of the project was conducted by energy company Eletrobras, the project’s leader, and three of Brazil’s largest construction companies. It is criticized for vastly underestimating the socio-environmental impacts on communities and ecosystems downstream from the dam

An appeal to the full Supreme Court is expected.

“This case is emblematic of a seriously flawed legal system, where bureaucracy and political interventions allow for systematic violations of human rights and environmental law,” says Brent Millikan, Amazon program director at International Rivers. “There is an urgent need to judge the merits of over a dozen lawsuits against Belo Monte that are still awaiting their day in court.”

Brazil is spending $93 billion on 20 hydropower plants that threaten 2500 square miles of Amazon rainforest and the lives of thousands of people who live there.

Indigenous people have been physicallly blocking construction of the Belo Monte dam. 

Another huge dam project on the Teles Pires River is also being contested for many of the same reasons.

If all the dams are built, thousands of people will be evicted from their ancestral lands and transmission lines will cross the Amazon, carrying the energy to cities.

The reservoirs will submerge trees and underbrush with water, and as they decompose, they produce methane, with emissions 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide. The reservoirs formed by damming the rivers will be stagnant, mosquito-infested water.

It goes without saying that these dams will destroy large sections of the most biologically diverse rainforest on Earth, which the world has been working to protect for decades.

“This decision sets a terrible precedent for Belo Monte and the dozens of dam projects planned for the Brazilian Amazon. It indicates that consultations with indigenous peoples can be carried out in any manner – including after Congressional authorization of a project or after an environmental impact study has been carried out," says Raul Silva Telles do Vale, Associate Coordinator for Policy and Law with the Social-Environmental Institute. "It also means that consultations aren’t required for dam projects that don’t directly flood indigenous lands, denying what are in fact disastrous impacts on downstream communities.”

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