Another heaping helping of controversy for Amazon dam

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A Brazilian indigenous chief attends a February protest in Brasilia against the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.

Credit:

EVARISTO SA

For more than thirty years Brazil has been trying to build a massive hydropower plant on the Xingu river in the central Amazon. Environmentalists hate it, economists say it’s not cost-effective and scientists say it might be a white elephant. Much of the recent drama has focused on a Brazilian environmental agency known by the unwieldy acronym IBAMA, and the fact that heads of the agency who opposed the dam tend to lose their jobs.

In December, IBAMA’s president stepped down, reportedly over political pressure to approve construction licenses for Belo Monte. Lending credence to those reports, the interim president then granted permission to start clearing forest to build the dam and powerplant, even though the entire project had not yet been approved.

Environmental activists argued this was illegal, and a judge recently agreed, stopping the project from moving forward. Now a new president has taken control of IBAMA. And in an inaugural interview with the newspaper O Globo, he says he wouldn't have issued the permit because environmental concerns haven’t been addressed. Now we'll see how long he keeps his job.