Fool Me Once, Shame on You...

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak no Evil

A wise old Chinese philosopher once said "Fool me once, shame on you...fool me twice, shame on me". Brazil´s granting of a construction license for Santo Antônio Dam, on the Madeira River, made it clear that responsibility must be shared for the shameful way in which environmental laws have been blatantly ignored in order to hasten the destruction of the Amazon´s major tributary.

As it did before the issuance of a provisional license for the dams, the technical staff of Ibama, Brazil´s environmental protection agency issued a report, this time 146 pages long, recommending against the project´s licensing. "While the omissions (in the mitigation plan) may not be grave impediments to issuing the construction license...there are many problems which show the plan is not at all ready to address the many impacts the dams will cause".

President Roberto Messias Franco of Ibama, promoted as part of the shakeup that dismantled Ibama last year to push through the Madeira dams´ licensing announced the same day that the license would be issued, and said he had not read the report. Messias Franco told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper "I knew there would be little pieces of questioning, but we have so many licensing processes to look at..." In all, some 30,000 MW in new dam projects, mostly in the Amazon, are in environmental licensing at Ibama, and it´s obvious that Messias Franco intends to rubber stamp all of them.

The Ibama president defended his actions by saying he "felt a lot of pressure" to grant the licenses, and that some of the experts´ concerns were made into conditions the company will have to meet before beginning operation of the dam. But critics point out that many of the conditions placed on construction of the dam related to demands placed when the provisional license for the Madeira dams was issued in 2007, and that little progress had been made on compliance.

Among the principal problems identified was the fact that designs for fish passage and fish reproduction mechanisms, heralded as a viable way of avoiding the extinction of valuable migratory fish species, were omitted from the mitigation plan.