Brazil’s environment chief approves paving of Amazon highway against earlier IBAMA warnings

Last week, Eduardo Bim, president of the environmental agency IBAMA, authorized the Brazilian federal government to begin repaving the BR-319 highway between the cities of Manaus, in the state of Amazonas, and Porto Velho, in the neighboring region of Rondonia, a road that crosses the most virgin area. of the country’s Amazon rainforest.

The decision was immediately criticized by environmental groups who said repaving the road would encourage deforestation.

Brazil's Amazon rainforest has already hit a new deforestation record this year

The highway project was originally a key part of a plan by the country’s military dictatorship to develop the wilderness area and integrate it with the rest of the country. It was officially opened in 1976, but poor maintenance led to its abandonment in 1988. Since then, the road has only been partially usable.

As a climate NGO Climate Observatory Underscored Wednesday, the clearance also goes against earlier recommendations from a task force of other IBAMA officials, which warned that paving the highway would lead to deforestation in the area.

The group also pointed to a link between some well-maintained parts of the road and higher levels of traffic, “settlement” and deforestation in the Amazon.

Logging in the town of Realidade in the state of Amazonas, near the BR-319.

“Monitoring and inspection activities carried out by environmental agencies in the region have shown that the disorderly occupation process, associated with high rates of deforestation, has intensified in recent months,” they wrote. .

“This is particularly noticeable at each end of the BR-319, where the asphalt is in good condition, the traffic is dense and the layout of the road has favored its occupation”, continues the document.

This document, published in 2008, also recommended ten “preconditions” for the repaving of the highway, including the creation of protected areas along the more than 400 km of road to be asphalted and the creation of ecotourism programs involving local communities. .

“It is impossible not to recall (these) additional recommendations to be considered as prerequisites by the federal government” before the start of work, he adds.

The Observatorio do Clima said IBAMA experts issued similar recommendations in July, but the agency’s management also ignored them.

The BR-319 highway near the border between the states of Amazonas and Rondonia.

Critics of the decision were quick to point to the timing of the decision, noting that Brazil is heading for new elections this fall where President Jair Bolsonaro is set to face former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bim is a Bolsonaro appointee, who made repaving the road a campaign promise ahead of the 2018 election. Previous presidents have also promised to repave and fully reopen the highway, including Da Silva.

“The decision is clearly politically motivated” and the project is “very concerning,” said Fernanda Meirelles, executive secretary of the BR-319 Observatory, an NGO set up to promote sustainable development in the highway region.

CNN contacted IBAMA for comment but did not receive a response.

Brazilian Infrastructure Minister Marcelo Sampaio celebrated the decision as “the result of courage and technical work” in a post on Twitter.

“We will bring Amazonas society out of isolation,” he wrote, referring to the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

While the new permit does give the green light to the repaving project from an environmental perspective, it does not include provisions for the 10 conservation measures recommended by officials in 2008.

Under the terms of the license, the inspections will be the only measure designed to limit the environmental impact of the road, which crosses a large remote area in northwest Brazil.

“Inspection operations are insufficient to curb land grabbing, invasions, deforestation and land speculation, pressures that have increased exponentially in recent years (in the area),” Meirelles also said.

Brazil experiences record deforestation in the Amazon in the first half of 2022

Civil society organizations plan to lobby for IBAMA’s decision to be overturned in court, according to Suely Araujo, public policy expert at the NGO Climate Observatory.

“The permit does not even require the installation of inspection posts (along the road). There is no guarantee that deforestation in the area will be controlled once the road is built,” Araujo said in a statement.

“Deforestation being the main negative impact linked to paving, the declaration of viability of the works, inherent in all prior authorizations, is not duly justified. It is an authorization which must be annulled by the courts”, he said. -she adds.

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was deforested by a record amount in the first half of 2022, according to the country’s Institute for Space Research (INPE).

INPE satellite data shows that 3,750 square kilometers (1,448 square miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was lost in Brazil between January 1 and June 24, the largest area since 2016, when the institute started this type of monitoring.