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Chile Scraps Dam Project in 'Greatest Triumph of the Nation's Environmental Movement'

Scrapping of controversial HidroAysén project cheered as grassroots victory by campaigners

Campaigners at one of the rivers that would have been affected by the HidroAysen project. Middle banner reads: Patagonia without dams. (Massimo Lupo/cc/flickr)

In a decision hailed as "the greatest triumph of the environmental movement" in the country, Chile on Tuesday rejected a controversial dam project.

The HidroAysén project in the seismically active area would have included five dams on two rivers in Patagonia—the Baker and Pascua—and, according to International Rivers, would have resulted in the flooding of "nearly 15,000 acres of globally rare forest ecosystems and some of the most productive agricultural land in the area," impacting wildlife and forcing the displacement of people.

The nation's top administrative authority, the Council of Ministers, unanimously overturned the environmental permits issued in 2011 for the dams.

"A decision was taken to accept the community appeals and void the Environmental Qualification Resolution that approved HidroAysén; so the project is declared rejected by this administrative act," the Wall Street Journal quoted Environment Minister Paul Badenier as saying.

The rejection of the project follows an 8-year campaign led by the Patagonia Defense Council (PDC) coalition, which includes International Rivers, the Natural Resources Defense Council and local citizens and community groups and had highlighted the risks of the project and need for Chile to choose a truly sustainable energy future.

"What began as a grassroots effort to protect the pristine Baker and Pascua rivers, and the communities and culture of Patagonia, has developed into a fully-fledged international campaign and galvanized a national environmental movement," writes Emily Jovais, program assistant with International Rivers.

"Over the past four years Chileans have taken to the streets to demand a halt to HidroAysén and around the world an international community has rallied around this call. It is these voices that have won out, and together have set in motion a new path towards a bright future for Patagonia and the hope of a truly sustainable energy future for Chile," she continues.

Patricio Rodrigo, Executive Secretary of the PDC, cheered the decision as well, issuing a statement that "the government’s definitive rejection of the HidroAysén project is not only the greatest triumph of the environmental movement in Chile, but marks a turning point, where an empowered public demands to be heard and to participate in the decisions that affect their environment and lives."


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