Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, approved the clearing of 588 acres of Amazon rainforest on the planned site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant. The approval was granted by the acting director, after the head of the agency stepped down last month due to what Brazilian media outlets said was extreme political pressure to greenlight the very controversial project. Former president Lula was an avid proponent, despite decades of high-profile opposition to the dam, which would be the world’s third largest.
James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver, fresh from the success of Avatar, called the power plant and proposed dam an ecological disaster. The dam will flood 190 square miles of rain forest and environmentalists say it could displace 50,000 people. Others have raised questions about the viability of the multi-billion dollar hydropower plant, particularly as scientists say Amazon droughts are becoming more common and severe, a possible consequence of global warming. Even with the latest approval granted, legal challenges are likely to keep the chainsaws at bay for at least a little while longer.