At a hearing on Mekong River hydropower development held in Washington on Thursday, a US Senator said he was drafting legislation to oppose Asian Development Bank electricity generation projects if the US government found they did not sufficiently respect environmental standards and human rights.
Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia and the current chairman of the Senate subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, said the new provisions, which were to be included in legislation to authorize US contributions to the ADB, would be introduced this week.
“This language would instruct the US executive director at the bank to vote against financing a project if the treasury decides not to certify to Congress that the project adheres to internationally recognized environmental standards, protects the rights of individuals affected by the project, and reflects a multilateral approach to development along the Mekong River,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks posted to the Internet.
A cascade of eight dams are halfway near completion on the Upper Mekong in China. The four Mekong River Commission countries, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, have also planned 11 Mekong dams, causing concern among conservationists who say this threatens millions of livelihoods and poses an unacceptable threat to the environment.
Mr Webb said he was concerned about dam development in China and MRC’s inability to hold its members accountable for negative regional consequences of the dams they plan to build. Through the ADB, the senator said, the US could promote environmentally sustainable dam development on the Mekong.
“The ADB is the only regional organization to which all Mekong countries belong and it has played a significant role in funding the development of hydropower…throughout the region,” Mr Webb said.
The ADB is currently funding some hydropower development along the Mekong. Officials from the ADB and the Cambodia National Mekong River Committee were unavailable yesterday.
On Wednesday, the MRC announced it had received official notification that the Lao government wished to build the first dam on the lower Mekong River, the 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi Dam located north of Vientiane, which is not receiving ADB funding.
Aviva Imhof, campaigns director for the environmental group International Rivers, testified before the Committee on Thursday and accused the MRC of distancing itself from the findings of its own impact assessment.
This study, released in June, warned of the severe consequences of the Mekong dams on fisheries and livelihoods of tens of millions living along the Mekong and it recommended deferring decisions on the dams for ten years.
Ms Imhof told the Committee that the MRC’s impact study “has not even been publicly released, let alone distributed and debated throughout the region,” according to a statement from International Rivers. She added, “to allow the Xayaburi consultation process to go forward without considering the findings of the [study] would be like getting a diagnosis of cancer and then ignoring it.”
Pich Dun, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong River Committee, said last week the government had taken no position yet on the Xayaburi Dam but that, if built, the dam would probably have little impact on Cambodian fisheries as it was located far upstream.