Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News 4/1- 4/7/2012


Chile’s Supreme Court released its final verdict in favor of HydroAysén, the project which would build five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers in the Patagonia region. This project, highly contested for its environmental impact in Chile’s pristine southern territory, has now passed the Supreme Court but  still needs government approval for its transmission line (BBC 04/04/2012). Congressmen Antonio Horvath stated, “This does not mean a green light...there is still the necessary presentation of the power lines which are essential for the mega venture to proceed.” Horvath also highlighted that the State Defense Council may become part of the process which will seek to clarify some of the irregularities in the environmental assessment process of HidroAysén (Radio BioBio 04/04/2012). The next battle will be the afore mentioned transmission line which is intended to stretch 1,912 kilometers across 57 municipalities and nine regions. The environmental Impact Statement for this part of the project will not be submitted until June of this year (Diario Financiaro 04/05/2012).

Within Chile’s newly released energy plan, the proposed designation of an “electric road”, or public transmission corridor, takes on new significance in light of the recently approved HydroAysén project. The governmental decree for this transmission corridor could simplify the approval process for HydroAysén’s controversial transmission line. Thus far, there are no concrete proposals for the electric road or the transmission line but representatives from the group, Patagonia Without Dams are already preparing their arguments regarding interglacial lakes, glacial lake emptying, flow fluctuation, protection of biodiversity, San Rafael Lagoon Park and the relocation of local families (Electricidad 04/05/2012).

For the second time this year, Lake Cachet is emptying at a rapid rate. Beginning on March 31, water authorities in the Aysén region recorded a 31 meter water drop in 48 hours. The drop corresponded with an increased flow in the nearby Baker River. The director of water noted that this is not altogether abnormal as the lake has experienced rapid water drops over the years, beginning in 2008, but none-the-less increased monitoring will commence to track the lake’s changes (El Divisadero 04/03/2012).

Jorge Bunster was sworn in as Chile’s new energy minister in place of former minister Rodrigo Alvarez. Bunster steps in at a critical time for Chile’s energy sector and will have to move forward the government’s recently released energy strategy.  The Chilean Association for Renewable Energy hopes that Bunster will help advance the strategy’s pillar on non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) by prioritizing policy changes such as a proposed renewable energy standard that calls for 20% of Chile’s energy to come from renewables by 2020.   (Electricidad 04/05/2012).

Australian Energy company Origin bought 51 percent of the controversial Energía Austral project from the Swiss mining giant Xstrata. The owners are proposing to build three mega-dams in Patagonia with a combined capacity of 1,100 MW, plus a transmission line. (La Tercera 04/03/2012). Origin and Xstrata also announced  the project will cost up to $3.6 billion, with half going to the transmission line. Xstrata expects to have the environmental permits for all three dams in 2014. (Portal Minero 04/04/2012).

Another toxic spill marks disaster outside of Santiago. A truck veered off the road last week, spilling 20 tons of sulfuric acid, lime and ammonium nitrates ( 03/30/2012). This road, which lies as a direct route to the Anglo American’s Los Bronces mine, is not a stranger to toxic spills as trucks are in constant violations of strict laws put in place to prevent such spills. The municipalities of Las Condes and Lo Barnechea have imposed transit laws which restrict truck travel to the hours from 12 am to 6 am. But with no police presence, these trucks are frequently seen during rush hours resulting in lethal spills including that of 1965 which left 400 dead in the town of Nogales (SantiagoTimes 04/03/2012).


Mexico continues to make headway in the battle against climate change as the Environment Commission of the Chamber of Deputies approved a proposed Climate Change Law, which would  allow Mexico to combat the effects of climate change.  The proposed law would require federal, state and municipal governments to implement measures to protect, preserve and restore ecological balance while also promoting low carbon technologies and sustainable development. The bill is not set to be voted on by the full Chamber of Deputies (Aztecnoticias 3/29/2012).

The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas is investigating the loss of 811 meters of beach in the southern Baja California region. Authorities are unsure as to what caused the strange phenomenon but they are now monitoring the situation to avoid property loss or injury. Thus far the ecosystem remains intact and locals were unaffected by the loss (Vanguardia 04/05/2012).

New Research from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources shows that the oasis regions  in Mexico’s Baja California are under threat from development. Of Mexico’s 200 oasis regions, 184 lie in the Baja peninsula. These small and lush regions, found in otherwise arid zones, are critical for agriculture and raising animals.  But they are largely threatened by poor water planning as there is no initiative to conserve or treat the water being used and contaminated by local populations and tourism. More research is being conducted as to how best address the issues affecting these fragile regions (IPS 04/05/2012).


The Organization of American States in conjunction with the government of Mexico have implemented a new project that will create a working group to support governments of the Western Hemisphere toward advancing energy efficiency and conservation through policy, regulation, and technology. The initiative, “Energy Efficiency: Technical Assistance and Collaboration with the Government of Mexico” will be carried out over the next three years through workshops, exchange missions and seminars and is funded by the US Department of State  as part of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (OAS 04/03/2012).

Composed by Amanda Wheat

Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.