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article imageCanada requests response from Chile on environmental conflict

By Igor I. Solar     May 13, 2010 in Environment
Santiago - A petition from Chilean environmental advocates on alleged violation by the Government of Chile of a bilateral Agreement on Environmental Cooperation with Canada has resulted on a request for response from Chile.
In 1997 the Governments of Canada and Chile signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which included two parallel agreements: one in connection with cooperation on labour related issues and a second called Canada-Chile Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (CCAEC). Under the latter, both countries agree to enhance environmental cooperation and to effectively enforce environmental laws, such as those governing water, air, toxic substances and wildlife.
In 2006 a consortium of two electric utility companies integrated by Endesa Chile and Colbún S.A, formulated a mega-project named HidroAysén that involves the construction of 5 dams in two major rivers of the Aysén Region of Chile, also known as the Chilean Patagonia. A sixth dam will also be built to provide energy during the construction of the main dams, 2 in Baker River and 3 in Pascua River. The project requires an investment of about US$ 3,200 million and is expected to supply about 35% of the demand for electric power of a large extension of the Chilean territory, from the far north (supplying power to the important copper mining industry) to the center-south area of the country, where about 90% of the population lives. Besides building the power plants there is the need to install about 2200 km of transmission lines across national parks, public and private property, and virgin lands.
Baker River  Aysén Region  Chilean Patagonia.
Baker River, Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia.
The Chilean government is highly positive about the project and several high ranking government officials , including the current president Sebastián Piñera, have expressed their support to the project. Piñera has said:
“I will support the construction of the (HidroAysén) dams because Chile needs energy, but we are going to demand that these companies take care of the environment, care for nature and the lifestyle of the people of Aysén, as required by law. "
The law stipulates that the company must satisfy the requirements of environmental regulations. To this effect, HidroAysén has carried out the studies of environmental impact assessment which have received objections from 14 technical units of the administration involved in the evaluation of the baseline study and impact assessment. Additionally, many stakeholders including environmental NGOs and regional citizens contest the studies and reject the construction of the hydroelectric stations in an area internationally known as pristine. The dams are expected to submerge close to 60 square kilometres of land near the border of Chile and Argentina. HidroAysén claims that the total reservoir area will cover no more than 0,05 % of the surface of the Aysén Region and that will not affect water rights of Argentina. The company further propose an extensive plan of mitigation, compensation and reparation which should benefit the communities that would be affected by the dams.
Baker River  Aysén Region  Chilean Patagonia
Baker River, Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia
After submitting several unsuccessful complaints to the Chilean government, since 2008, “Patagonia Chilena sin Represas!” (Chilean Patagonia without dams!) the NGO that is against the construction of the dams, integrated by 16 environmental organizations and individuals, presented two submissions to the Commission of the Canada-Chile Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. The petitioners claim that Chile is failing to enforce its environmental laws with respect to the Hydroaysén Project and that this violates the terms of the FTA between the two countries and the CCAEC. In particular, the applicants argue that the Chilean authorities have not ensured effective compliance with two important legal obligations: Article 19, number 8, of the Constitution of the Republic of Chile and an Specific Additional Protocol related to shared water resources between Chile and Argentina, created from the Environmental Treaty of 1991 between the Republic of Chile and the Republic of Argentina.
Baker River  Aysén Region  Chilean Patagonia
Baker River, Aysén Region, Chilean Patagonia
After consideration of the arguments presented by Patagonia Chilena sin Represas the commission of the CCAEC concluded that the submission satisfied the screening criteria and further requested a response from Chile on the points raised by the NGO.
The Chilean Government received the notification by mid March and had 30 days to provide a reply, however as allowed by the agreement, the government requested a 30-day extension. This term expires at the end of this week.
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