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Ecology and economy cross swords at Shangri-La

June 19, 2009

CIOB International News
China’s environment ministry has blocked a US$29-billion cascade of hydropower dams that would generate as much power as the Three Gorges Dam.
The ministry suspended approval on 11th June of the project along the Jinsha river in Yunnan province, upstream of the Yangtze River, because it said two large, state-owned utilities, Huadian Power and Huaneng Power, had begun blocking the middle reaches of the river in January before they had received approval from central government.
The state-owned utilities had been ordered to proceed by local government, which is under strong pressure to boost economic growth. The demand to create more jobs, which ironically comes from central government, is driving local governments to push ahead with projects without going through the legally required environmental impact assessments.
The ministry said Huadian Power and Huaneng Power had failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the environmental impact of the hydropower projects on the river, fabled for its beauty.
“To protect the management of the environment ... and to punish the violation of the environment and illegal acts regarding the environment, the environmental ministry decided to suspend the construction projects in the middle reaches of the Jinsha river,” the spokesman Tao Detian said in the statement, according to The Guardian newspaper.
The power companies want to build 12 hydropower plants along the 1,423-mile Jinsha river, which flows to Yunnan and Sichuan provinces from its source high on the Tibet Plateau. But environmental groups have fiercely opposed plans to add dams along the Jinsha, which would affect one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. The area is not far from Shangri-La  County, formerly Zhongdian County, which changed its name in 2001 to attract tourists.
Zhang Boju, a researcher with Friends of Nature, welcomed the ministry’s decision to hold up the project.
“It is a courageous decision that we fully support,” he told The Guardian. “This goes some way to honouring their commitment not to sacrifice the environment while boosting the economy.”
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