Environmental Licence for São Luiz do Tapajós Hydroelectric Dam Denied
Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, has decided not to give an environmental license to the São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam, the first of a series of dams planned for the Tapajós river basin. The project’s rejection is seen as a significant victory by the Munduruku indigenous people — whose livelihoods and lands would have been impacted, and by environmentalists.
If it had gone ahead, the 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam would have been the country’s second largest hydroelectric power station, after the controversial Belo Monte dam, which became operational earlier this year. It would have also been one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world.
The decision took into consideration reports from the federal attorney’s office (Advocacia-Geral da União, AGU), the indigenous agency Funai and Ibama itself, all of which advised against authorization. The ruling now has to be endorsed by Suely Araujo, the president of Ibama. However, as she is a member of the licensing commission, which voted unanimously against authorization, she is expected to ratify the decision shortly.
While the decision was welcomed by environmentalists and indigenous groups, it is not being well received by others. Luiz Barreto, president of EPE, Brazil’s Energy Research Company, which draws up the country’s energy studies, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper (which broke the story on Wednesday) that the dam’s cancellation could increase energy costs: “To do without São Luiz do Tapajós necessarily implies finding other sources of supply, with different costs”.
The São Luiz do Tapajós dam was heavily opposed by the Munduruku Indians, who were alarmed by the impact of the Belo Monte dam on indigenous groups who live beside the Xingu river — the large Amazon tributary to the east of the Tapajós. They’ve lobbied vigorously and effectively against the Tapajós dam. Recently, international NGOs, including Greenpeace, rallied to their campaign.
The construction of São Luiz do Tapajós would have meant the flooding of Munduruku territory known as the Sawré Muybu, where some Indians live. According to the Brazilian constitution, such an action is not permitted. Brent Millikan, the Amazon program director from the NGO International Rivers, is clear on the topic: “Indigenous land can only be exploited in very unusual circumstances, and then only after approval by Congress”.
In the past, the federal government has argued that it was not required to give this protection to the 170,000 hectares (656 square miles) of Sawré Muybu land, as it was not formally recognized as indigenous territory.
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