News of the week
Good environmental news from Brazil
No hydroelectric dams on Brazil’s Cuibá River
In a victory for the natural world, a Legislative Assembly in Brazil approved a draft law that prohibits construction of hydroelectric dams along the entire length of the Cuiabá River. The draft came from the Legislative Assembly for the State of Mato Grosso, a large state in west central Brazil that borders Bolivia to its west.
The Assembly approved the draft with 12 votes and two abstentions. The draft goes next to the governor of Mato Grosso, Mauro Mendes, for his approval. The proposed legislation came about when a large construction project, which would have built six dams on the river, was recently advanced.
The Cuiabá River flows 300 miles south/southwest through the central Mato Grosso state and between the basins of the Amazon and Paraguay rivers. The river’s watershed runs across the Mato Grosso Plateau, an extension of the larger Brazilian Plateau that rises to an elevation of about 3000 feet.
A study carried out by Brazil’s National Water Agency and Fundação Eliseu Alves, a Brazilian organization supporting teaching, and scientific and technological development projects, found that 89 percent of the fish in the Cuiabá River are those that spawn. Dams could stop them from their upstream journeys to the headwaters of the river where they reproduce.
Brazilian Court puts the kibosh on large gold mine
The First Regional Court of Brazil upheld the suspension of an environmental license for a huge gold mine in Brazil’s Xingu River basin. Had the license been approved, the proposed mine would have been the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil and would have occupied 3,556 acres.
Environmental and indigenous rights organizations applauded the news. They believe that had the mine been approved, corporate interests would have opened up a gold rush in the area, despoiling the region. The Canadian company Belo Sun Mining Corporation had been pursuing the construction of the mining project, called the Volta Grande, for several years.
The Xingu River meanders north for 1,230 miles before it joins the Amazon at a juncture that is close to the Amazon’s terminus with the Atlantic. It’s catchment spans over 200,000 square miles, an area about the size of Colorado and New Mexico combined. An estimated 14,000 indigenous people, comprising nine distinct ethnic groups, live along the length of the Xingu. The river was dammed in the 1970s by the Xingu–Araguaia Hydroelectric Project, and the government is constructing another, the Belo Monte Dam, which is projected to be the fourth largest hydroelectric dam in the world. In 1989, the Kayapó Indians galvanized an international drive that stopped a Brazilian state electric company, Electronorte, from creating a six-dam mega-project on the Xingu.
Belo Sun’s environmental permit for the mine, had been suspended since 2017, when the Regional Court ruled that the Canadian mining company and the Brazilian government had failed to adequately inform the indigenous people who would be affected by the mine about the environmental and cultural ramifications of the proposed mine.
Belo Sun has maintained that they fulfilled the requirements for the consultations during the past year, while the Federal Prosecution Office, a body of independent public prosecutors that works separately from Brazil’s three branches of government, disagrees, saying that Belo Sun performed no consultation with indigenous populations.
This latest ruling follows up a 2017 ruling that had revoked a previous license for the mine. That revocation instigated the requirement on the part of the mining company to consult with indigenous people. Belo Sun was also required by the court to prepare an Indigenous Component Study that would investigate the effects the mine would have on indigenous populations. Belo Sun completed the study, but the Prosecution Office maintains that it is flawed and that the project is environmentally unfeasible.
According to a report from the Prosecution Office, Belo Sun conducted meetings with indigenous people that were intended to gather information for the company. Belo Sun later claimed that these meetings constituted their required consultations. There is no indication that the indigenous people who attended these meetings were told that they were attending a prior consultation process meeting for deliberation on the proposed mine.
A dam that would have impounded mining waste was part of the project. Dr. Steven H. Emerman, who evaluates the environmental effects of mining, says that if the proposed dam collapsed, at least nine million cubic meters of toxic mining waste—containing mercury, arsenic, and cyanide—could flow into the Xingu River, traveling more than 25 miles in two hours and causing irreversible damage to the river.
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