New Lawsuit Against Belo Monte Questions IBAMA License

The Office of the Ministério Público Federal do Pará
Monday, June 6, 2011

Translated from Portuguese: read the original version in Portuguese.

The new lawsuit in Federal Court, the 11th against the Belo Monte Dam, questions IBAMA's granting of the installation license without fulfillment of the project's prerequisites. 40% of the agency's prerequisites were not met, presenting a risk of social chaos.

Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutor (MPF) filed today its 11th civil lawsuit against the Belo Monte Dam, over problems in the dam's environmental licensing. The lawsuit demands the suspension of the installation license, which approves the beginning of construction, and points out the failure to meet the necessary prerequisites to prepare the region for the project's impacts. According to a technical report from IBAMA regarding the preparatory actions, 40% of the conditions were not met by project developer Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA).

IBAMA's opinion demonstrates, in 250 pages, that the prerequisites— including improvements in health, education, sanitation, navigability, and the completion of affected families surveys— were not met by the developer.  What's worse, the report notes that the developer claimed to have started several projects in health and education, which the technical report found simply not to exist in early May.

The false information submitted to IBAMA was subject to notification of NESA.  In report 477/2011, IBAMA's General Coordinator for Electric Energy Infrastructure and Director of Environmental Licensing noted the statements contained in Article 69-A of Law 9605/98, which relates, in summary, to the criminal conduct of presenting fully or partially false or misleading information in an environmental licensing study or environmental report.

Yet IBAMA granted the license anyway, creating concepts that had previously not existed in environmental law: "in compliance," and "partially met."  Norte Energia, S.A. has not begun efforts, for example, to improve sanitation in the region where construction encampments are planned, but presented a project to do so only in March 2012.  Instead of considering the condition unfulfilled, IBAMA considered it to be "in compliance.”

The same concept was applied to another condition that the MPF considers essential: implementing sanitation for water quality control in the city of Altamira.  According to IBAMA's technical report, the condition will only be fulfilled in 2014; and because of this delay, there will be pollution and eutrophication – rotting – of streams that feed the city's water supply.  Still, the condition was considered “partially fulfilled.”

"The creation of flexible and elastic concepts in such serious matters only serves the interests of NESA, which naturally seeks to hasten the start of construction without having to spend more money in the preparatory stage. But this is not at all in the interest of citizens in the Brazilian Amazon— they expected to see a rigorous, exemplary licensing process, especially since this will consume the bulk of public resources spent over the next 30 years,” says the text of the MPF lawsuit.

The lawsuit cites a document from IBAMA produced in 2010, in response to an earlier civil lawsuit of the MPF. At the time, the agency told the Federal Court: "It turns out that investment in prerequisites, in response to the objections of federal prosecutors in the state of Para, will indeed serve the population prior to construction, in accordance with the prior environmental license, an absolutely new stipulation for environmental licensing.”

The document continues: "These measures of investment are expressed as anticipatory measures, which require the developer to be responsible for investment in the prerequisites even before the issuance of the installation license, which allows for the commencement of construction. Investments should be made in urban relocation and in the construction of adequate housing, made of concrete, with drainage systems, sanitation, and paved roads.  But this is exactly the opposite of what is currently happening. These are prerequisites to the installation license, and if the developer fails to fulfill them, IBAMA has the prerogative to cancel the license, even before the start of construction of the dam.”

For the MPF, by failing to meet its own prerequisites for the Belo Monte Dam, IBAMA has reached the "limit of irresponsibility." The MPF cites data from Rondônia which illustrate that IBAMA also used elastic concepts to allow for the installation of the Jirau and San Antonio Dams: “beyond the labor violations that led to the social explosion at the Jirau construction site in March 2011 in Porto Velho, the migration rate had already reached 22% higher than was expected, incidences of rape had already increased by 208%, and nearly 200 children still remain out of school in just one of the villages.”

The situation in Altamira is expected to be even more severe than in Rondônia, because Altamira has been characterized as a region of land and agrarian conflicts for many years, while the region is also heavily populated by indigenous peoples. The prerequisites relating to indigenous communities, which were scheduled to be completed before the installation license, may now only be fulfilled before issuance of the operating license, according to a document signed by the president of indigenous agency Funai.

In the opinion of the MPF, both Funai and IBAMA should be overseeing compliance of the prerequisites prior to the beginning of construction, yet have instead chosen to make life easier for the developer by postponing the requirements to a later date. "If the preparatory actions that were required during the prior license were not fulfilled, what will lead us to believe that they will be fulfilled during installation itself? How should we give credit to the rigor of IBAMA, if IBAMA has yet to demonstrate that rigor in its relationship with the developer?” says the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is being processed in the 9th Circuit Federal Court in Belém with the number 18026-35.2011.4.01.3900

To follow the process:

Read the text of the 11th Civil Lawsuit regarding problems in the licensing of the Belo Monte Dam, in its entirety: