PR: Federal Judge Suspends Construction of Controversial Teles Pires Dam

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Federal Judge Suspends Construction of Controversial Teles Pires Dam in Brazilian Amazon

Proponents of Teles Pires accused of gross negligence in analysis of impacts on indigenous people and their territories

Brasilia, Brazil: Federal judge Antônio Souza Prudente has ordered the immediate suspension of construction on the Teles Pires hydroelectric project – one of five large dams planned for the Teles Pires River, a major tributary of the Tapajós River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. In response to a civil lawsuit filed by Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutors' Office (MPF), the decision cites “unforgivable failures” in the environmental licensing of the dam, especially in terms of prior analysis of impacts on the Kayabi, Munduruku and Apiaka indigenous people and their territories.

According to the lawsuit, the Energy Research Enterprise (Empresa de Pesquisa Energetica, or EPE) linked to the Brazilian government's Ministry of Mines and Energy committed a series of gross errors regarding a required “indigenous component” of the environmental impact assessment (EIA). Initially, EPE attempted to use the EIA for two other planned dams on the same river – São Manoel and Foz de Apiacás – as a proxy for analyzing impacts of the Teles Pires Dam. When a draft version of the indigenous component for the Teles Pires Dam was finally presented over a year after the rest of the EIA was completed, technical staff at FUNAI (the federal agency for indigenous affairs) flagged major shortfalls in the study, especially in terms of downstream impacts on water quality, fisheries and destruction of Sete Quedas, a series of rapids and waterfalls with tremendous cultural, religious and archeological importance for the Kayabi, Apiaka and Munduruku indigenous people. 

Countering advice from his technical staff and under intense political pressure, then-President of FUNAI Marcio Meira conceded to granting a first-phase environmental license for the Teles Pires Dam in December 2010, based on the assumption that gaps in the study could be addressed subsequently. In reality, studies were never completed and by August 2011, FUNAI was again under intense pressure to agree to an installation license for the Teles Pires project. As noted in the MPF lawsuit, more than two years into dam construction, a final version of the indigenous component of the EIA has yet to be presented by the EPE and approved by FUNAI. Meanwhile, the impacts of construction of the Teles Pires Dam – which has already involved diversion of the river from its natural channel – include declining water quality and decimation of fish stocks, directly affecting downstream villages of Kayabi and Munduruku indigenous people.

Teles Pires construction site.
Teles Pires construction site.

The Teles Pires Dam project, with an estimated installed capacity of 1,820 MW, is slated to be the second largest hydropower project – after the notorious Belo Monte mega-dam – within the “Program for Accelerated Growth” of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Initial investments for the Teles Pires project have been estimated at approximately US$2 billion, with over US$800 million in subsidized loans from the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES).

According to the decision of Judge Souza Prudente, construction of the Teles Pires Dam consortium must be halted until the indigenous component of the EIA is completed and formally approved by FUNAI. If the dam consortium Companhia Hidrelétrica Teles Pires (CHTP) – which includes participation of the Bank of Brazil and its employee pension funds, state-owned electricity conglomerate Eletrobras and construction giant Odebrecht – does not halt construction of the project, a daily fine of BRL 500,000 will be incurred. It is expected that the Rousseff administration will appeal the case to the Brazilian Supreme Court.

Media contacts: 

Brent Millikan, International Rivers, +1 707-591-1220 (USA) or +55 61 8153 7009 (Brazil),, @BrentMillikan