Chilean Patagonia, one of the world's most pristine wilderness areas, is receiving major attention these days from a large and very well-connected U.S. environmental group.
The U.S. based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently designated Chilean Patagonia as a so-called "BioGem." The organization is currently featuring the region ÃÂ¢€" together with Florida's Emerald Coast and the Yellowstone/Greater Rockies area ÃÂ¢€" prominently on its web site (www.nrdc.org/). The NRDC, founded in 1970 and operating from offices in several major U.S. cities, boasts 1.2 million members and is linked directly to the powerful Kennedy family. Robert Kennedy Jr., who shares the same name as his famous father ÃÂ¢€" a one-time U.S. senator, Attorney General and presidential hopeful who was assassinated in 1968 ÃÂ¢€" is the organization's senior environmental attorney. "At the southernmost tip of South America," the web site reads, "lies a land of stunning natural contrasts: the towering Andes rise sharply from the cold deep waters of the Pacific, creating a rugged expanse of coastal islands, dense rainforests, snow-capped glaciers and powerful wild rivers." That pristine wilderness, however, is now threatened by plans to build several large hydroelectric dams, warns NRDC. Known collectively as the Aisén project, the dams are part of a massive endeavor developed by the Spanish energy giant Endesa. "Endesa-Spain, a European energy company, is pushing to build hydro-electric dams on at least half a dozen rivers in Patagonia. Its scheme would lay waste to this thriving region, flooding thousands of acres of irreplaceable wildlife habitat," according to NRDC. The plan, the Web site goes on to explain, also calls for the clear-cutting a 1,200 km swath of forest, space that would then be used to build the world's largest transmission line. Five national parks would be affected by the massive clear-cutting, which is to be handled by a Canadian company called Brookfield Consortium. But for any of this to happen, Endesa must first have its projected US$4 billion project approved by Chilean government authorities. That will require submission of an Environmental Impact Study, something the company is not expected to do until some time next year. Endesa has already invested an estimated US$7.5 million on engineering plans, according to a report this week in the nation's largest daily, El Mercurio. If the project is eventually approved, dam construction would likely begin in 2009 and would involve 3,800 workers, said the conservative daily. Backers of the project claim the electricity it would produce ÃÂ¢€" equivalent to about 30 percent of the electricity currently available in Central Chile ÃÂ¢€" makes the Aisén project absolutely necessary. Demand for electricity, they point out, grows by an average of six percent annually. The Santiago Times