Brazil revokes Volta Grande environmental licence

Monday, 30 June, 2014

Reuters brought us the news last week that a federal court in Brazil has revoked the environmental license for a gold mine planned by Toronto’s Belo Sun Mining Corporation on the Amazon Bason’s Xingu River. The basis of their decision, in a salutary lesson: the company “failed to assess the impact [of the project] on local indigenous communities.” It’s all the more noteworthy because if it goes ahead, this gold mine will be Brazil’s largest: this is a high profile project.

While the ruling can be appealed, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors called it "an important victory for justice… [that] will be difficult to overturn.”

The Volta Grande open-pit project is meant to start operating in 2016. It’s in a region not unused to controversy, neighbour to the planned Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which could be the worlds third largest; but that, too, has been hit but a number of lawsuits that could prevent it going ahead.

All is, as you might expect, not quite entirely lost for the mine: the article infers that the licensing process could pick up again if an acceptable study were to take place on “the impact [of the mine] on the local communities that are already being affected by the Belo Monte dam”; The ruling links the two projects, making the core issue the double impact of the mine and the dam on local habitats.

From the Reuters piece:

Judge Claudio Henrique de Pina said it was "unquestionable" that [Volta Grande] would have a "negative and irreversible" impact on the quality of life and cultural heritage of the Paquiçamba, Arara da Volta Grande and Ituna/Itatá indigenous communities that straddle the Xingu river.

Brazil's federal Indian affairs agency, Funai, said in December that the biggest impact on the Indian communities that live along a 100-km (60-mile) stretch of the river will be a drop in water flows by 80 percent to 90 percent when the Belo Monte dam starts up.