We Won!

Humboldt Penguin National Protection Area Saved

La Serena, Landau, August 26, 2010.

The penguins are dancing, the people of the Port of Choros are celebrating, and Rosa, Jan, and the local community mayor are amazed with joy. President Piñera corrected the August 24th decision of the Coquimbo Region “Corema” (the regional environmental decision-making body), and came to an agreement with the company Suez Energy not to build a coal-fired power plant in the community of La Higuera. Three years after beginning the battle for the livelihood of the local citizens and a sea region’s biodiversity as important as Antarctica itself, it is finally over.

On the 24th of August however, it seemed that it was going to be a black day for the region. On that day Corema decided that the building of the Barrancones coal-fired power plant was not harmful to the environment. Of the 19 members of Corema, all 15 appointed by the current administration voted for the building of the power plant, and all four independent members voted against it.

In the final phase of the environmental impact review, the positions of almost all of the responsible governmental offices’ changed; suddenly they were in favor of the building of the power plant. These offices’ positions were then used as the basis of Corema’s decision. This change in views happened despite the fact that these same offices had for years voiced grave concerns regarding the building of the power plant!

FACT: with the new Chilean President, there also came newly-appointed leaders of the aforementioned governmental offices; these offices decided against all the well-founded objections of organizations, against the results of all scientific studies, against the objections of all the citizens, and against the fact that at the end of July, the natural protection organization, Oceana, had submitted a 300-page application for the creation of a marine protection area in the affected region.

After the irregularities in the environmental evaluation process increased, just weeks before Corema’s decision, many people and organizations called the parliamentary oversight committee to voice their concerns, including Oceana, Modema, the community mayor, and even members of the Parliament from various parties, to include those from the party of the current administration.

Atypically, the decision by Corema to allow the building of the power plant was followed very closely throughout the entire country. It loosed a flood of critical commentary and reactions throughout the media. Many politicians and prominent figures then publically declared their solidarity with the power plant opponents. Now, President Piñera’s credibility was being questioned, as during his campaign he had stated his explicit opposition to contaminating coal-fired power plants.

In addition, many were worried about Chile’s reputation as a civilized country, where it seemed that a natural world heritage could be sacrificed in the name short-term profit. Spontaneous demonstrations broke out in many cities. In the capital of Santiago, police broke up a peaceful demonstration with tear gas and water cannons, because the protestors allegedly intended on marching to Moneda, the governmental seat.

The day after Corema’s decision, the irregularities in the environmental impact review became a political scandal. The person responsible for the overall environmental review, Pamela Pizarro, wrote an SMS as a list of 27,000 signatures was being presented to Corema. This SMS was recorded by coincidence on film. She wrote, “Stinking hippies. I’m fed up with them and their 27,000 signatures they collected from the rest of the world.” Based on this proof, the Federal Ministry for the Environment immediately terminated Ms. Pizarro from her post because her prejudice was unacceptable.

This incident showed that in the case of the Barrancones power plant, an independent and objective review of the environmental compatibility never happened, and that a legal review of Corema’s decision appeared to be unavoidable. Ms. Pizarro also insulted all the 27,000 persons in Chile, Europe, and the rest of the world who had given their signatures out of concern for the biological diversity in this part of the world.

On the same day as Ms. Pizarro’s statement there was another sensational occurrence. The natural protection organization, Oceana, announced that it had found a Spanish investor who was prepared to produce the same amount of energy with the same financial investment, and do this solely through wind-generated power. This possibility was further substantiation that an environmentally -responsible decision was not made in this case by Corema.

After a cabinet meeting on Thursday, August 26th, President Piñera thus corrected Corema’s decision and stated, “We do not want to destroy such a beautiful area. Let us enjoy it!”.

Yes, Mr. President, we will. At best we can enjoy this region’s future by creating an exemplary marine protection area as well.


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