The plan to open a large swath of the Amazon forest to mining and exploration was halted temporarily by a federal judge in Brazil.
In a ruling issued Aug. 29, Judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo said Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, had exceeded his authority in rescinding the designation of a 17,700-square-mile region known by the Portuguese acronym Renca as a protected area through a presidential decree. The judge said that only Congress could make that change.
The New York Times reported that the ruling came after the government sought to respond to an international outcry by issuing an updated version of the Renca decree that more broadly outlined steps to mitigate environmental damage, safeguard the rights of indigenous communities and retain protected areas. But opponents say that the plan will hasten development that has encroached on the rain forests and accelerate deforestation and the displacement of native peoples.
The injunction was granted in response to a lawsuit filed by Antonio Carlos Fernandes, a lawyer and university professor in the northeastern city of Fortaleza who said he felt compelled to act after reading about the growing opposition to the decree in Brazil and abroad.
The government has argued that authorizing regulated mining in the region will curb illegal gold mining and generate new jobs. The area also contains deposits of iron and copper. The government has said it will appeal the decision.
While the appeal process plays out, regional prosecutors and members of Congress who oppose opening the area to mining are gearing up for a protracted legal and legislative struggle.
“The suspension of President Temer’s unilateral decree with its severe threats to vast Amazonian forest offers a welcome and temporary reprieve,” said Christian Poirier, the program director for Amazon Watch. “Today’s ruling upholds constitutional guarantees and puts the brakes on this drastic regression, but is ultimately vulnerable to being overruled by higher courts.”