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Nu River Dams: Approval Expected in Coming Months

August 31, 2005

Call for Public Disclosure of
Nujiang Hydropower Development’s EIA Report
in Accordance with the Law

Since 2003, the plans for damming the Nujiang River have grabbed the attention of people from all walks of life. This river, so very far away, has become linked to the hearts of many people. The discussions over whether the dams should be built on the Nujiang and how to avoid the negative social and environmental impacts have helped improve the decision–making processes for large–scale infrastructure projects in China.

We have been informed that the Central Government’s planning and environmental departments have reviewed the hydropower development plans for the Nujiang. We think that the EIA for a project such as this that affects the interests of this and future generations, that has attracted worldwide attention, and that carries potentially huge impacts should be publicly disclosed and decided with sufficient prior informed consent and evaluation, following the requirements of the relevant law and the guiding principles of the State Council.

In August 2003, when news of the preparatory work for the cascade of dams was first heard, environmentalists were the first to express concerns. The Nujiang hydropower cascade will transform the natural, free–flowing river into a series of channels and reservoirs. This river is one of only two undammed rivers in China. It is located in an area of high biodiversity, and flows through the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Area. This naturally caused concern over its environmental impacts. Meanwhile, dam–building in an area of high mountains, deep valleys and extremely poor farmland threatens the livelihoods and future of tens of thousands of people. 92% of the population of Nujiang Prefecture are ethnic minorities of different religions. They have lived together in harmony for generations, developing a unique and rich culture. Once resettlement starts, the loss of cultural biodiversity is inevitable. At the same time, since the Nujiang flows through an area of frequent earthquakes, landslides and mudslides, the safety and economic feasibility of dam construction is also uncertain.

The environmental, scientific and aesthetic values of the Nujiang, and the serious potential environmental and social impacts that may result from hydropower development, have become well–known in China with the help of the mass media. This river, which is far away from us and was not well known to the people, has become a focus of public concern. People hope to receive more information. They also hope that the major environmental and social impacts of dam–building can be avoided.

Since the planned dams on the Nujiang became such a focus of public attention, and SEPA expressed concerns, the central government suspended the projects in February 2004. Premier Wen Jiabao called for more careful and prudent studies of the plans, and a "science–based" decision–making process. As a result, the dam developers and relevant government departments were required to conduct a more comprehensive and detailed EIA.

During the discussions on Nujiang developments, we are deeply impressed with the comprehensive media coverage, the wider participation of the public, the actions of SEPA, which dared to face the pressure, and the central government, which has acted responsibly. We hope that the discussion can open a new era of decision–making for China’s hydropower development and other large–scale infrastructure projects, in terms of openness, transparency and public participation.

However, since the Nujiang project was suspended, the EIA and related documents concerning the Nujiang project have not been disclosed. There is no way for the public to learn how the developers and local government will avoid environmental damage, how they plan to carry out the resettlement of 50,000 people, and how they will assure the safety and economic feasibility of the dams. After several months of silence, we learned from a few media reports that the second round of the EIA panel meeting for the Nujiang project was conducted on 13 November 2004 in Beijing. The Southern Weekend newspaper quoted a participant stating that he received notice of the meeting at the last minute. The Huadian Groups’ Beijing Surveying and Planning Institute and Eastern China Surveying and Planning Institute distributed the EIA report and other relevant materials, but didn’t let people take them home afterwards. 

Such a decision–making process does not meet the legal requirements for public participation in China, the internationally recognised requirements for decision–making processes, the requirements of the "Administration Permission Law", and the principles of information disclosure in the "Guidelines of Full Implementation of Law". The EIA law, which became effective on 1 September 2003, clearly states, "The nation encourages relevant units, experts and the public to participate in the EIA process in appropriate ways".

According to the law, "for projects which may cause negative environmental impacts and directly involve public environmental interests, the institutions of project planning should seek opinions from the relevant units, experts and public over the draft EIA report, by holding evaluation meetings, hearings and other forms of meetings, before the draft is submitted."

In addition, "(the institutions) should seriously consider the opinions of the relevant units, experts and the public over the draft EIA law, and should attach explanations for adopting or not adopting the opinions when submitting the EIA report."

On 10 August 2004, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) issued the "Temporary Measures for Environmental Protection Administration Permission", which states that public hearings should be conducted for two categories of construction projects and ten categories of project planning. The two categories of construction projects include large and medium–sized construction projects that may cause serious environmental impacts and therefore require an EIA report. The ten categories of project planning include the energy and water resources sectors where negative environmental impacts may be caused and where public interests are directly involved. Apparently, a public hearing on the environmental impacts of Nujiang hydropower development planning should be conducted.

The "Administration Permission Law" was enacted on 1 July 2004. When the administrative institutions review the applications for administration permission, and learn that the projects directly involve a third party’s major interest, the stakeholders should be informed. The applicants and stakeholders have the right to present a statement and defend their interests. Administrative institutions should hear the opinions of the applicants and stakeholders. The law also requires the administrative institutions to inform the applicants and stakeholders about their rights to demand a hearing when the major interests of applicants and third parties are affected. Applicants and stakeholders must submit an application for a hearing within five days of being informed of their rights, and the administrative institutions are required to organise a hearing within 20 days of receiving the application.

On 22 March 2004, the State Council issued the "Guidelines for Full Implementation of the Law", which requires the disclosure of government information. According to the Guidelines, "Apart from national secrets, business secrets and private matters, the administrative institutions should disclose and allow the public to review governmental information." When discussing how to build a complete, science–based and democratic decision–making mechanism, the guidelines requires the government "to clearly define the administrative decision–making power of all levels of governments and government departments, and improve the regulations for internal decision–making. Establish an administrative decision–making process which combines public participation, expert review and government decisions. Practice law–based, science–based and democratic decision–making."

Meanwhile, the Guidelines require that "the procedure of administrative decision–making should be improved. Besides state secrets, the items of decision–making, the arguments and the results should be disclosed and accessible to the public. … The information should be disclosed to the general public through seminars, hearings and evaluation meetings to collect opinions for the projects that involve the wider public and are closely related to the people’s interests. Legality assessment should be conducted for the major administrative decisions during the decision–making process."

Recently, we are informed that the Nujiang’s hydropower planning has been reviewed by the planning and environmental departments. However, so far the EIA and related documents concerning the Nujiang project still have not been disclosed. There is still no way for the public to learn how the developers and local government plan to avoid environmental damage, or to arrange proper relocation, or to assure the safety and economic feasibility of the dams. We believe that it does not fulfil the legal requirements for such a major plan if it bypasses the public participation requirements in Chinese law. The decision–making under such circumstances lacks the public support and cannot tolerate history’s scrutiny.

We sincerely call for the decision making authorities to disclose the EIA report of the Nujiang dam plans before making a decision, because the right to be informed is a pre–requisite for public participation.

In the recent EIA process for the Yuanmingyuan Garden Maintenance Project, SEPA released the full text of the draft EIA report via the internet and won the public’s support. We think the case of Nujiang development should follow this precedent. The EIA report should be released to the general public for review, and a public hearing should be organized. Only by doing so can the Nujiang hydropower plan fulfil the requirements of law–based administration and information disclosure, guarantee the public’s right to know and participate, realise democratic and science–based decision–making, avoid irreversible environmental damage to the maximum degree, and assure the affected people’s interest and the security of national asset investment.

Nujiang hydropower development is not an individual case. We hope the process can help develop a set of science–based and democratic decision–making mechanisms, in order to cope with the over–heated and unregulated hydropower development boom in China. In 2004, the installed capacity of China’s hydropower reached 100,000 MW, which is the highest in the world. China’s hydropower sector plans to increase capacity to 250,000 MW by 2020. On the mainstream of the Jinsha, Min, Dadu, Yalong, Jialing, Wu, Hongshui and Lancang Rivers, hydropower cascades have been planned. Some of them will be amongst the largest dams in the world. Many more dams have been developed on the tributaries of each of these rivers, and in some cases the number of dams top 300 in one watershed. Without a proper procedure, such an abnormally fast pace of development may result in resource exploitation and environmental degradation. Then the beauty of China’s natural rivers will be lost, and the affected people in southwest China’s mountainous areas may fall into dire poverty.

Today, China has entered the market economy era. Although hydropower development is a major part of our nation’s energy development strategy, today’s hydropower development is basically a commercial business. We should no longer tolerate the low–cost or even free exploitation of public resources and the earning of huge profits at the expense of our environment. Dam–builders should not externalise the huge costs of dam construction on affected people, the public, the nation’s finances and future generations.

We are glad that the State Council, the National Development and Reform Commission and the local governments have taken steps to regulate hydropower development. However, to change the root cause of the current problems, a new decision–making mechanism for hydropower development should be developed, to keep all stakeholders fully informed and allow their participation. When all stakeholders gain the right to know and participate, the social and environmental impacts of hydropower development can then be properly considered, the pros and cons can then be reasonably weighed, the affected people and the environment can then be fully compensated, and alternative solutions can then be seriously considered. Only by doing so, the river resources can then be fairly, openly, scientifically, reasonably and sustainably utilised. This is also the only option to put the science–based development vision and the harmonic development of human beings and nature into practice.

Endorsed by the following 61 organizations and 99 individuals:
(Since the original publication of this letter, it has been endorsed by an additional 31 NGOs and 360 individuals, taking the total number of endorsements to 92 organizations and 459 individuals.)

Organizations

Friends of Nature
Green Earth Volunteers
Green Island (China Youth Daily)
Beijing Brooks Education Centre
Wild China Workshop
Global Environmental Institute
Global Village Beijing
Institute of Environmental Law, Chinese University of Politics and Law
Centre of Legal Aid for Pollution Victims, Chinese University of Politics and Law
Chinese Society of Human Ecology
Shanghai Greenroots Power
Green Web Union
Han Hai Sha
Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong)
Greenpeace
Green Beijing
Community Participation Action
Animal Saving Unit, Beijing Haidian Association of Veteran Forestry Technology Workers
Pacific Environment
Xinjiang Conservation Fund
Yunnan EcoNet
Sichuan Association for Tourism Geoscience Research
Green Rivers
Xi’an Green World Environment, Culture and Art Development Institute
Xi’an Green Future Environmental Audio–visual Education Centre
Xi’an Young Environmental Journalist Centre
Sino–America Children’s Environmental Art Education Base
Save China’s Tiger International Foundation
Liaoning Panmian Association for Black–mouth Gull Protection
Zhejiang Environmental Volunteers Association
Huai River Guardians
Chifeng Desert Green Engineering Institute
Jiangsu Green Friends
Hebei Green Friends Environmental Volunteers Association
Jinan Step into Nature Environmental Volunteers Association
Tianjin Green Friends
Wuxi Healthy Ecological Cycle Science Institute
Shangri–la Nature Conservation Association
Snowland Great Rivers Environmental Protection Society
Huhhot Earth Ambassador Youth Environmental Volunteers Team
Beijing Red Maple Women’s Centre
Beijing Human and Animals Environmental Science Popularisation Centre
World and China Institute
Beijing Green Culture Development Centre
Beijing Yi–tong Lawyers’ Firm
Beijing New Era Zhigong Education Centre
Beijing Jingding Lawyers’ Firm
Beijing Chen Yue–qing Lawyers’ Firm
Beijing Huichen Group
Beijing Geography Society
Women’s Media Monitoring Network
China Redwood Conservation Program
Green Wild Association, Xiamen University
Beijing Lingshan Ecology Institute
Yinchuan Women Development Promotion Association
Zhiluzhi Environmental Technology Development Company
Henan Lankao County’s Elderly Association
Sons of Farmers Group, Beijing Normal University
Hand in Hand Culture Exchange Centre
One–hearted Hope for our Earth
China History Society of War of Resistance

Individuals

Zhou De–ci (Member, Chinese Academy of Engineering)
Ye Wenhu (Vice–Chairman, Beijing Municipal Political Consultative Committee)
Zhu Tan (Vice–Chairman, Tianjin Municipal Political Consultative Committee)
Niu Wenyuan (Head, Sustainable Development Strategy Unit, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
Li Qiang (Head, School of Humanities, Tsinghua University)
Xie Jun–qi (Vice–Principal, Chinese Institute of Land Surveying and Planning)
Wang Yi (Researcher, National Conditions Research Centre, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
Wang Anjian (Professor, Global Mineral Resources Strategy Research Centre, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences)
Mang Ping (Professor, Central College of Socialism)
Wang Song (Researcher, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
Tang Ke–wang (Director, Environment Institute of Water Resources Institute, Chinese Institute of Hydropower and Water Resources Science)
Jiang Gaoming (Chief Researcher, Botany Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
Chen Guoqian (Professor, Beijing University)
Zhang Xiao–ai (Chinese Human Ecology Society)
Fan Xiao (Secretary General, Sichuan Society for Tourism Geoscience Research)
Xu Feng–xiang (Beijing Lingshan Ecology Institute)
Lu Zhi (Professor, Beijing University)
Mao Yu–shi (Uni–rule Economics Institute)
Liang Congjie (President, Friends of Nature)
Zheng Yisheng (Researcher, Research Centre for Environmental and Development, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
Sheng Hong (Uni–rule Economics Institute)
Yang Dongping (Professor, Beijing Polytechnic University)
Wang Hui (Professor, School of Humanities, Tsinghua University)
Wang Jin (Professor, School of Law, Beijing University)
Li Fan (President, China and the World Institute)
Li Bosheng (Research, Zoology Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
Xie Yan (Representative, Wildlife Conservation Society)
Zhang Kangkang (Writer)
Lu Yuegang (Journalist, writer)
Zhang You–yun (President, Chinese Employment Promotion Association)
Dong Xiu–yu (Former Chief Editor, Joint Publishing Company)
Li Te–te (Permanent Council Member, Chinese Poverty Alleviation Fund)
Li Hao (Beijing Earthview Environment Education and Research Center)
Zhou Guang–ren (Professor, Central Academy of Music)
Yang Bin
Ling Yun (Journalism and Broadcasting Institute, Tsinghua University)
Li Li (Global Village Beijing)
Li Li (Global Village Beijing) (Same pronunciation, but different character)
Zhao Yingjie (Global Village Beijing)
Kang Xue (Beijng Brooks Education Centre)
Meng Xianghe
Wang Yongjiang
Teng Xingcai (China Youth Daily newspaper)
Xu Hang (Household Appliance Technology magazine)
Jiang Weiming
Zhou Jiangbo
Wu Ming
Chen Jing (Chinese Technology Magazine)
Guo Jianmei (Women’s Law Research Centre, Beijing University)
Wang Xingjuan (Beijing Red Maple Women’s Centre)
Xu Hui (China Development Brief)
Zhang Luping (Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Science Popularisation Centre)
Wang Xuhong (Beijing New Era Zhigong Education Institute)
Zhou Hongling (Beijing New Era Zhigong Education Institute)
Liu Shuhui (Beijing New Era Zhigong Education Institute)
Zhang Junfeng (Zhiluzhi Environmental Technology Development Company)
Li Fenglan (Deputy County Magistrate, Lankao County, Hebei Province)
He Huili
Yu Xiao (Sons of Farmers Group, Beijing Normal University)
Tan Shi (Red Flag magazine)
Kou Yanding (Hand in Hand Culture Exchange Centre)
Ma Xiaoduo (One–hearted Hope for our Earth)
Yu Jinhong (One–hearted Hope for our Earth)
Xu Xiangqing (One–hearted Hope for our Earth)
Ma Pingchuan (One–hearted Hope for our Earth)
Wang Yongchang (Beijing Geography Society)
Xue Qing (American Lawyers’ Association)
Xue Ye (Secretary General, Friends of Nature)
Feng Yuan (Women’s Media Monitoring Network)
Yu Wen
Wang Jingsi (China History Society of War of Resistance)
Yang Hailan (Yinchuan Women’s Development Promotion Association)
Su Yanxia
Li Xuejun (Readers Magazine)
Lau Kin Chi (Professor, Hong Kong Lingnan University)
Chen Guoqiong (NPO Information Consultancy Centre)
Yang Guoqiong (NPO Information Consultancy Centre)
Lin Yao
Dai Jinghua
Li Yang
Zhang Huiyu
Chen Qing
Li Subin
Li Jingsong
Chen Yueqin
Zhang Xingshui
Meng Weina
Feng Xi (Beijing Vision Information Centre)
Song Qinghua (Community Participation Action)
Wang Yongchen (Green Earth Volunteers)
Xin Hao (Deputy Secretary–General, Zhejiang Association of Environmental Volunteers)
Yun Jianli
Li Zhihe
Ye Fuyi
Zhong Shaolin
Zhang Chunshan
Li Xiaoxi
Guo Geng (Beijing Elk Ecology Centre)
Ma Jun (Environmental Consultant)

Additional Information

For further information, please contact:

    Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director
    International Rivers Network
    E-mail: aviva@irn.org
    Phone: +1 510-848-1155