March 25, 2019 / 2:08 PM / 6 months ago

Brazil says new hydro power projects in the Amazon possible

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The Brazilian government would be open to evaluating new hydro power projects in the Amazon region on their merits, as the administration shrugs off “ideological” interference in the licensing process, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said on Monday.

Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles poses for a photograph after a news conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Speaking at seminar organized by government relations association Abrig, Salles said environmental agency Ibama is in charge of assessing such projects and the risks associated with them, and it will do so on a strictly technical basis.

“It’s important to remember: environmental licensing is not an instrument to say no. It is an instrument to determine under what conditions to say yes.”

The minister said Ibama’s work is to gauge the benefits and risks of each project and at the end of the analysis decide if there are any measures that can be imposed to mitigate the risk, allowing a project to go ahead.

Salles recognized the Amazon “is a sensitive” region because of its biodiversity, noting construction of hydro power projects there is not the same as in other regions of the country.

The minister’s stance marks a shift from previous left-wing administrations, during which he said decisions based on “dogmas” compromised protection of the environment.

He cited the example of an un-built power line northern Brazil that would connect the state of Roraima to the national grid.

Roraima is supplied by Venezuela, but as a result of a hyperinflationary economic crisis in the neighboring country, the state has been suffering almost daily blackouts.

“Under an environmental standpoint, the worst decision was not approving construction of that power line,” Salles said. He noted in the face of the power outages, Roraima must rely on alternative power sources.

“The electricity produced locally [in Roraima] is more anti-environment as it comes from fossil fuel sources,” he said.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Christian Plumb and Marguerita Choy

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