Case Notes: Privy to Unsustainable Arguments in the Belize Dam Case
It is fair to say that the heydays of gigantic hydroelectric projects are numbered. First, in Europe, the optimum for hydroelectricity has been reached as all the major water sources have already been harnessed. The ‘dash for gas’ soon after privatisation and restructuring in the early 1990s has also contributed to the decline in interest in exploring hydroelectricity. Further still, ways are continually being explored to make clean energy from wind and solar power cost effective. More generally, there are now sophisticated environmental groups and awareness that makes for effective mobilisation of scientific data and public opinion against the creation of dams for hydroelectric purposes. The global environmental consciousness is reflected in regulations passed by national governments and international organisations to manage and protect the environment. Many of these regulations make it comparatively more onerous to conceive, construct and maintain hydroelectric projects. EU Council Directive 85/337/EEC (as amended) on Environmental Impact Assessment, provides one example of such measures. This Directive prescribes adherence to procedures such as the production of an Environmental Impact Statement as the basis for public consultation with serious consideration given to the results in arriving at the final decision and information given to the public about the decision. Many developing countries follow the tenets of environmental impact assessment established in North American and European countries. The controversy that forms the subject of this commentary is about the effort of the small English speaking country of Belize in South America to generate electricity from its Macal River near the town of Chilollo and the procedures for assessing the environmental consequences of the project.