Brazil’s São Luiz do Tapajós Dam: The art of cosmetic environmental impact assessments

Philip M. Fearnside
National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil; pmfearn@inpa.gov.br

ABSTRACT: Brazil’s planned São Luiz do Tapajós dam is a key part of a massive plan for hydropower and navigable waterways in the Tapajós basin and on other Amazon River tributaries. The dam’s Environmental Impact Study (EIA) illustrates the fragility of protections. EIAs are supposed to provide input to decisions on development projects, but in practice these studies tend to become formalities in legalizing prior decisions made in the absence of information on or consideration of project impacts. The EIA has a tendency to minimize or ignore significant impacts. Loss of fisheries resources is likely to be critical for Munduruku indigenous people and for traditional riverside dwellers (ribeirinhos), but the EIA claims that there is "low expectation that natural conditions of aquatic environments will be significantly altered". The destruction of Munduruku sacred sites is simply ignored. The Brazilian government’s priority for the dam has resulted in blocking creation of the Munduruku’s Sawré Muybu indigenous land and other indigenous lands throughout Brazilian Amazonia. With the exception of one legally recognized community (Montanha e Mangabal), non-indigenous ribeirinhos are considered as not 'traditional people'. Even the one recognized community is not considered to require free, prior and informed consent. The São Luiz do Tapajós case illustrates problems in decision making in Brazil and in many other countries.

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, Indigenous people, EIA, Hydroelectric dams, Amazon, Brazil