Federal Judge Suspends Partial License for Construction of the Belo Monte Dam in Brazilian Amazon

Judge Orders Immediate Halt of Construction Plans Until Preparatory Conditions Are Met

Amazon Watch

For more information, contact:

Paul Paz y Miño, 510-281-9020 x302 or paz@amazonwatch.org

Para, Brazil – A Federal Judge in the Brazilian state of Para has ordered the immediate suspension of the partial installation license for the commencement of construction of the Belo Monte Dam Complex on the margins of the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon. Today's ruling also prevents the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) from transferring funds to the dam-building consortium Norte Energia (NESA), given the consortium has failed to comply with dozens of social and environmental conditions required for an installation license.

The Brazilian judge Ronaldo Destêrro of the Federal Court in Belém stated that Norte Energia (NESA) has not complied with required environmental and social conditions imposed by the Brazilian Environmental Agency (IBAMA) to allow dam construction to begin.

"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 ruling was in response to a legal action brought by the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office – Minsterio Publico Federal (MPF) – against the dam project after the Brazilian government issued a "partial" installation license on January 26, 2011, allowing the Belo Monte Dam Complex to break ground on the Amazon's Xingu River despite noncompliance.

"The infrastructure system in Altamira will collapse if the dam's construction starts without the fulfillment of all the conditions," said Federal Prosecutor Ubiratan Cazetta.

The partial installation license, non-existent under Brazilian environmental legislation, would allow NESA to open access roads and initiate forest clearing at dam construction sites encompassing some 2,118 acres. The Public Prosecutor Office has filed nine other lawsuits against the Belo Monte Dam, each claiming violations of Brazilian law.

The risky $17 billion Belo Monte Dam will divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch. Its reservoirs will flood more than 120,000 acres of rainforest and local settlements, displace between 20,000 and 40,000 people and generate vast quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the statement by the Federal Public Prosecutor's office, since last year's announcement about the dam project an estimated 8,000 migrant workers have arrived in the town of Altamira looking for work.

"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, Amazon Watch Program Director. "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."

Earlier this month, NESA realized that BNDES would not release any funds for the project until a full installation license was issued. Hundreds of people gathered in Brasilia on February 8 to deliver over 600,000 global petition signatures to the newly elected President Dilma Rousseff. And, just last week, Bertin, which holds roughly ten percent share in the project pulled out.

This week and next, indigenous Amazonian leaders are touring Europe warning investors of the risks of large dams, like the proposed Belo Monte Dam Complex, and exposing the role of Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) in Amazon destruction.

In addition to the irreversible social, cultural and environmental impacts associated with the Belo Monte Dam complex, investors face serious financial risks ranging from uncertainty of costs of construction to the uncertainty of the Dam's potential capacity to generate electrical energy due to extreme seasonal fluctuation of the Xingu River. There are also clear indications that NESA will be unable to meet its legal obligations for mitigation and compensation measures associated with social and environmental impacts of the project. 

See the statement from Federal Public Prosecutor's Office.

Click here for more information on the EU delegation or to schedule an interview.

For more information on the economic risks, see International Rivers' recently released report.

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