China proposes fewer dams in power project to aid environment

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The New York Times 12 January 2006

By JIM YARDLEY

BEIJING, Thursday, Jan. 12 - A government environmental review has recommended reducing the number of dams included in a controversial hydropower proposal on the Nu River in southwestern China in order to limit environmental damage and decrease the number of people who would be resettled, a Hong Kong newspaper has reported.

The newspaper, Wen Wei Po, which has ties to the Communist Party, reported on Wednesday that the recommendation called for 4 dams instead the 13 in the original Nu proposal. The article, citing an unnamed source close to the governmental review, said fewer dams would still meet the needs for economic development and environmental protection.

The project has been delayed for nearly two years, and it will now be presented to the National Development and Reform Commission, a powerful government ministry, and later to the State Council, or Chinas cabinet.

But the article also suggested that the full 13 dams had not been completely ruled out. The source described the four dams as a pilot proposal and said more study would be needed to assess the larger project.

The original Nu River proposal, which would generate more electricity than the huge Three Gorges Dam, has become an international controversy. Environmental groups inside and outside China have called for more openness and public input in deciding whether to go forward on the project.

The environmental assessment report cited by the Hong Kong newspaper has itself become a point of contention. A coalition of environmentalists, lawyers, journalists and nongovernmental groups has called for the release of the report as well as public hearings on the project. They cited a 2003 environmental law that required public participation, including hearings, in deciding such major projects.

But the central government has refused to release the report and has not yet called any hearings.

The Hong Kong newspaper said the Ministry of Water Resources and the State Secrets Bureau had classified the report as a state secret.