Activists shut down first US tar sands mine project

Activists shut down first US tar sands mine project

By Christopher Smart / The Salt Lake Tribune

Several environmental groups protesting tar sands development in the Book Cliffs region of southeast Utah stopped work Monday on a road that will serve a strip mine to be operated by Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands.

Celia Alario, a spokeswoman for Canyon Country Rising Tide and Peaceful Uprising, said dozens of protesters had peacefully stopped road building on Seep Ridge Road and also interrupted mining operations at the East Tavaputs Plateau site. Protesters surrounded heavy equipment and, in some cases, chained themselves to it, she said.

No one was arrested or cited, said Uintah County Chief Deputy Sheriff John Laursen. He confirmed that 50 to 60 protesters halted road work and, for a time, closed the county road.

“Mostly we just wanted to make sure no one got hurt,” Laursen said.

The CEO of U.S. Oil Sands said his company is not building the road. It does, however, have a small test mine at the site but is not now producing oil. In a telephone interview, Cameron Todd said the oil sands mining operation is scheduled to ramp up in 2014.

The protest came after a week-long training camp that brought environmentalists to Utah from around the region for instruction in nonviolent, civil disobedience, according to a statement released by the organizations.

“The devastating consequence of dirty energy extraction knows no borders,” said Emily Stock, a Grand County resident and organizer with Canyon Country Rising Tide. “We stand together to protect and defend the rights of all communities, human and non-human.”

The U.S. Oil Sands CEO said he would not respond to the environmentalists’ claims.

“There is a [county] road contractor that is using our site as a staging area,” Todd explained. “I feel sorry for the contractor.”

Uintah County had long planned improvements on Seep Ridge Road, said Cheri McCurdy, executive director of the county’s Transportation Special Service District.

Public hearings on the Environmental Assessment were held in May 2009. The BLM gave approval for the road expansion in 2011. The road will serve the general public, ranchers, recreationists and energy companies, she said.

U.S. Oil Sands has received all the required regulatory permits to mine for tar sands in the region, according to a spokeswoman for the Utah School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which is leasing the land to the Canadian interest.

“They are generating money for public schools,” said Deena Loyola. “That’s our legislative mandate.”

Currently, tar sands from mining operations in Alberta, Canada, are being refined in Salt Lake City by Chevron Corp.

Members of the environmental coalition have not planned any activities for the remainder of the week, Alario said. But they do expect to organize future protests on the East Tavaputs Plateau, and other energy extraction sites.

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

International activists block Ilisu Dam construction site in Turkey

International activists block Ilisu Dam construction site in Turkey

By Amazon Watch

Today [May 21, 2013] representatives of dam-affected communities and organizations from South America, the Middle East, Europe, the US and Africa, including Brazilian indigenous leaders accompanied by Amazon Watch, blocked the entrance to the construction site of the Ilisu dam in southeast Turkey demanding an end to controversial development that would sink an ancient city dating back to the Bronze Age.

Some 20 people including Kayapó Chief Megaron Txucarramae, one of Brazil’s most noted indigenous leaders in the struggle against the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon, held up banners in English and Turkish reading ‘Rivers Unite, Dams Divide: Stop Ilisu and Belo Monte dams.’ Delegates from the International Rivers Conference held in Istanbul last Saturday joined local protestors to show solidarity with their struggle to stop the Ilisu dam on the Tigris River, Turkey’s last free-flowing river.

“The peace process cannot be completed without the cancellation of the controversial Ilisu dam project and the protection of Hasankeyf. At the same time, damming the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and stopping their flow reaching Syria and Iraq is a contradiction to Turkey’s ‘zero problems’ policy with its neighbors because the increasing water crisis in the Mesopotamian basin may lead to increased conflict,” said Dicle Tuba Kilic, Rivers Program Coordinator for Doga (BirdLife Turkey).

The Belo Monte dam in Brazil and the Ilisu dam in Turkey are two of the most controversial mega-dam projects in the world today. Both dams are located in cultural and natural hotspots, inflicting devastating consequences and displacing over 75,000 people in Amazonia and Mesopotamia. In addition, the Ilisu dam, located a few kilometers from the Iraqi border, will affect the livelihood of Marsh Arabs living in the newly restored Basra Marshes. Turkey controls the Tigris and Euphrates headwaters, which dictates how much water flows downstream into Syria and Iraq.

“Our struggle to preserve the Xingu River from the Belo Monte dam is no different from the fight to protect the Tigris River from the Ilisu dam. We are unified in our positions to say ‘no’ to our governments. You cannot kill a river that sustains its people and culture,” said Kayapó Chief Megaron Txucarramae.

Legal and political controversies have surrounded the push to build the Belo Monte and Ilisu dams. No adequate Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out for either dam, and both governments have failed to implement prior consultations and mitigation plans to protect the environment and rights of affected communities. Both dams proceed despite court rulings halting their construction and widespread national and international opposition to their development.

Faced by governments steamrolling human rights and environmental protections, dam-affected communities are uniting their struggle under the DAMOCRACY banner. DAMOCRACY includes 15 national and international organizations from all corners of the globe. Among them are Doga Dernegi, Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and RiverWatch.

Damocracy is produced by Doga Dernegi (BirdLife Turkey), in collaboration with other founding members of the Damocracy movement: Amazon Watch, International Rivers, RiverWatch, Gota D’água (Drop of Water) Movement, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre (MXVPS).

To watch the documentary, visit: http;//

From Amazon Watch:

200 indigenous people take control of key Belo Monte construction site

200 indigenous people take control of key Belo Monte construction site

By Mongabay

On Thursday roughly 200 indigenous people launched an occupation of a key construction site for the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. The protestors, who represent communities that will be affected by the massive dam, are demanding immediate suspension of all work on hydroelectric projects on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers until they are properly consulted, according to a coalition of environmental groups opposing the projects.

The protestors include members of the Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara, and Munduruku tribes. Non-indigenous fishermen and riverine community members that will also be affected by Belo Monte have also reportedly joined the demonstration. Organizers say the occupation will continue “indefinitely or until the federal government meets their demands.”

“Today’s protest demonstrates the relentless resistance of a growing group of united peoples against Belo Monte, Tapajós and destructive dams throughout the Amazon,” said Leila Salazar-Lopez, Amazon Watch Program Director, in a statement. “These are the final moments to change course as construction closes in on the Xingu and other lifeline rivers of the Amazon.”

Belo Monte has been the site of several protests since the Brazilian government finalized approval of Belo Monte. Indigenous groups, local fishermen, and environmentalists are strongly opposed to the project, while will divert nearly 80 percent of the flow of the Xingu river, one of the Amazon’s mightiest tributaries. The dam will flood tens of thousands of hectares of land, displace more than 15,000 people, and could push several endemic fish species to extinction. Belo Monte, which will operate at less than 40 percent of capacity despite its $15 billion dollar price tag, will require additional upstream dams to be commercially viable, according to independent analysts, potentially amplifying the project’s impact.

Belo Monte and other dams on the Xingu represent just a small fraction of the hydropower projects being developed by Brazil in the Amazon Basin. According to an analysis published last year, 231 dams are currently planned in the Brazilian Amazon alone. Another 15 are slated for Peru and Bolivia.

Ecologists say there are myriad problems with large dams in tropical ecosystems, especially when built on the scale envisioned in the Amazon. Large dams interfere with the hydrological cycle and nutrient flows through an ecosystem, while restricting or blocking access to breeding and feeding grounds for migratory fish species. Meanwhile areas inundated with water can generate substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Design flaws in some tropical dams, which draw methane from the base of their reservoirs, can exacerbate climate impacts. Finally flooding in the reservoir area can displace communities traditionally dependent on rivers, while creating hardship downstream from degraded fisheries.

From Mongabay: “Tribesmen launch ‘occupy’ protest at dam site in the Amazon rainforest

Time is Short: Where Do We Draw the Line? The Keystone XL Pipeline and Beyond

The Keystone XL Pipeline is without question the largest environmental issue we in North America face today. It’s not the largest in the sense that it is the most destructive, or the largest in terms of size. But it has been a definitive struggle for the movement; it has brought together a wide variety of groups, from mainstream liberals to radicals and indigenous peoples to fight against a single issue continuously for several years. It has forged alliances between tree-sitting direct actionists and small rural landowners, and mobilized people from across the country to join the battles in Washington and Texas, as well as at the local offices of companies involved in building the pipeline in their own communities. It has also posed serious questions to us as a movement about how we will effectively fight those who profit from the destruction of the living world.

But it’s time for a reality check.

While TransCanada continues laying pipe in Texas and Oklahoma, the Federal government is deliberating over the permit application for the Northern Leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will run from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. Despite the overwhelming (and inexplicable) sense of hope that pervades the movement, there’s little reason to be optimistic that TransCanada’s permits will be denied. So far, the Feds have neither done nor said anything that could lead any sane or rational person to believe the project will be rejected. On March 1st, the State Department released its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which concluded that the pipeline does not pose an unacceptable threat to human health or the environment.

Yet as we have heard only too many times already, climate scientists—including former NASA climate science chief James Hansen—have repeatedly said that the Keystone XL pipeline would be “game over” for the planet, as it would provide an outlet for the extremely dirty oil coming from the tar sands.

Obviously, the pipeline needs to be stopped. We can’t allow it to be built and to operate.

Fortunately, opposition to the pipeline is widespread, and thousands of people have been trying to stop it. A series of rallies in DC, spearheaded by, have mobilized thousands of people calling on Obama’s Administration to reject the pipeline, and inspired solidarity rallies across the country and protests at TransCanada offices.

Yet appealing to those in power isn’t working. When the leaders of some of the largest Big Green organizations (including and the Sierra Club) were being arrested outside the White House in an effort to appeal to Obama to reject the pipeline, the President was golfing with an oil executive in Florida.

Those in power are going to approve the pipeline. Asking them to change is failed strategy; at the end of the day, pipelines—like clear-cutting, strip mining, ocean trawling, hydraulic fracturing, and so many other destructive industrial activities—are legal. Those in charge of an economic system based on ecological destruction and endless growth will always favor the needs and wants of that system over the needs and wants of all those—human and non-human—harmed by their activities.

Meanwhile, more and more folks have started turning to nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to fight the pipeline. In North Texas, the Tar Sands Blockade has done everything it can to slow construction of the Southern Leg of the pipeline. Activists with TSB have erected tree sits in the pipeline’s path, locked themselves to equipment and vehicles, stormed TransCanada offices, gone on hunger strikes, organized protests and demonstrations along the route of the pipeline, and even locked themselves inside the pipeline. But unfortunately, it simply hasn’t been enough.

But despite their efforts, the pipeline continues to be built. There’s no denying that the sustained civil disobedience has delayed the project and forced TransCanada to fight hard for every mile of pipe laid in the ground; but they have the resources to ensure to overcome even the most strategic nonviolent direct action. When the Tar Sands Blockade erected a tree-sit in the path of construction, TransCanada altered its route and built around the protestors.

The reality is that TransCanada has the resources to outlast the delays and overcome direct action. They’ve already gone to great lengths to stop those who stand it their way; they hired off-duty police officers as a private security force and brought $50,000 lawsuits against the organizers of the Blockade. Make no mistake, TransCanada will go to whatever lengths it deems necessary to make sure the pipeline is built; they will threaten, sue, arrest, pepper spray, taser, torture, and force it through blockades and lockdowns. We don’t have the thousands (or tens of thousands) of people it would take to permanently stop the pipeline through civil disobedience; we’re fighting a losing battle.

Given all of this, it’s time to step back and take stock of the situation. It is clear that Obama and his administration are going to approve the pipeline, and there isn’t anything we can do to change that. It is also clear that civil disobedience has not been successful in stopping construction. So what options are left?

As James Hansen said, the Keystone XL pipeline will be “game over” for the planet. Stop a moment, and think about that.

Game over. Let that sink in.

Given what’s at stake (and what’s at stake is horrific), we need to draw the line. The Keystone XL Pipeline cannot be allowed to be built and operate. The tar sands cannot be allowed to be developed or extracted. They must be stopped. By any means necessary. When we’ve tried it all—everything from petitioning the powerful to civil disobedience –and at the end of the day, the pipeline is still being built, we need to recognize the need for escalation, including sabotage and property destruction.

That’s a proposition that makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. And that’s okay.

But when we’re left with the choice of either killing the pipeline or being killed by the pipeline, can we afford to rule out any tactics? When everything we’ve tried so far has failed, is there any choice left except more militant forms of direct action?

This isn’t a suggestion that anyone undertake any form of action they’re not comfortable with; we should all fight like hell, using whatever means we choose to use. But if some choose other means, such as sabotage or property destruction, we should not condemn or oppose them.

When the alternative is “game over” for the planet, anyone who chooses militant action to stop the pipeline is morally justified in doing so.

And yet, far from being extremist and unconventional, sabotage and underground resistance are threads common and integral to the cloth of movements for justice and sustainability. This is a rich history, and we should be proud to carry forth its legacy.

Even in regards solely to pipeline resistance, there is a definite precedent of movements using sabotage to fight otherwise unwinnable battles. In the Niger Delta, communities have been fighting oil extraction and systemic injustice, and wielding direct attacks on pipelines as a powerfully effective weapon. Following repeated failures of negotiations and nonviolent protest, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) began militant attacks on pipelines, pumping stations, offshore oil rigs, and other infrastructure in 2006. Their use of militant tactics has been devastatingly effective: they’ve decreased the oil output of the entire country of Nigeria by 40%.

On the other side of the world in British Columbia, a series of pipelines were sabotaged by the mysterious “Encana Bomber,” who repeatedly bombed pipelines and other natural gas infrastructure belonging to Encana, an oil & natural gas corporation. Local residents had tried to use the courts and regulatory infrastructures to protect themselves and their lands, but were trampled over by both Encana and the government agencies charged with regulating the corporation. Fed up with systemic injustice and environmental degradation, someone (or someones; the attackers remain anonymous and uncaught) decided to use any means necessary to fight back. Between October of 2008 and July of 2009, there were six attacks, and despite bullying and intimidation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, no one has been caught or arrested for the actions, and community members have openly expressed support for the sabotage. The attacks stopped in July 2009, when a letter from the bomber(s) gave Encana five years to “shut down and remove all the oil and gas facilities” in the area.

In both of these cases, those opposed to extractive projects (specifically including pipelines) tried to affect change through the established and legal channels: through government agencies and regulatory bodies, through negotiations, through lawsuits and court action. But when those tactics proved ineffective, they neither gave up nor continued with a failed strategy; they escalated. They knew they had to choose between taking militant action (and accepting the risk that entails) and destructive injustice. They chose to defend themselves, their communities, and the land, even if that meant taking more drastic action.

It’s time we did the same.

And while we so often consider even discussion of sabotage as a potential tactic as beyond the pale, militancy has played a critical role in past movements for justice—ones we are eager to support. The Boston Tea Party is upheld and oft-cited as a proud moment of American history, yet it was an instance of individuals destroying property; would we condemn the Boston Tea Partiers as “terrorists”? Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize and was elected president of South Africa after being freed from 27 years of imprisonment, yet he was in jail for sabotage and militant resistance; do we denounce him as well?

The Keystone XL pipeline must be stopped, and neither appeals to the government, lawsuits, nor civil disobedience have been able to stop the deathly march of the pipeline. If we’re not willing to even consider sabotage and property destruction—or support anyone who employs those tactics—when it’s that or “game over” for the planet, then we’re morally defunct beings, only hollow shells resembling those who hold any shred of love in their hearts. Do we really believe that the property of corporations is more important and sacred than the bodily integrity of real living people or the entire earth?

If not, then it’s time for a collective shift in the dialogue and culture of the environmental movement. We need to start talking openly about the possibility—and role—of militant action in the fight to stop the skinning of Earth alive. Make no mistake; this isn’t an exhortation to senseless violence or a call to walk away from other means of struggle. It’s a (truly) modest proposal that with literally the whole planet at stake, we put all the tools on the table. If we’re honest with ourselves about the situation we’re in, we don’t have any other choice.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at

Time is Short: The Bolt Weevils and the Simplicity of Sabotage

Time is Short: The Bolt Weevils and the Simplicity of Sabotage

Resistance against exploitation is nothing new. History is full of examples of people—perfectly ordinary people—fighting back against injustice, exploitation, and the destruction of their lands and communities. They move through whatever channels for action are open to them, but often, left with no legal or political power, they turn to militant means to defend themselves.

It is hardly a simple decision, and rarely the first or preferred option, but when all other paths have been explored and found to lead nowhere, militant action becomes the only realistic route left. Movements and communities come to that truth in many different ways, but almost without fail, they come to it borne by a collective culture of resistance. One inspiring example is the Bolt Weevils.

The Bolt Weevils were a group of farmers in Minnesota who spent several years in the late 1970s perfecting the fine art of sabotaging interstate electrical transmission lines. Their efforts have been memorialized in numerous books and songs, and their story is a hopeful one we would do well to remember and re-tell.

The story of the Bolt Weevils begins in the mid-1970s, when the Cooperative Power Association (CPA) and United Power Association (UPA) proposed construction of a new interstate high-voltage transmission line. Taking its name from the two cooperatives, the CU Powerline would carry current from a generating station in North Dakota across west-central Minnesota to feed the urban centers of the Twin Cities.

In determining a route for the powerline, small farmers land was rated less important than large industrial farms, and as a result, the proposed route crossed the property of nearly 500 landowners. Outraged at being trodden over to for the benefit of industry and urbanism, resistance against the project began immediately in earnest.

Once residents found out about the project, they refused to sign land easements. Local towns passed resolutions opposing the project and reject construction permits. The powerline went to review before the State’s Environmental Quality Council, which went ahead and granted the necessary permits in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

When surveyors showed up out of the blue in one farmer’s fields, he smashed their equipment with his tractor and rammed their vehicle. The action of that one farmer helped catalyze popular sentiments into action. Farmers began using CB radios to notify one another about surveying activities, and would turn out in groups to stop the work. As resistance began to build, local radio stations would broadcast times and locations of protestor gatherings. Farmers and others who opposed the project began meeting every morning in the Lowry town hall, hosting others who’d come from neighboring counties, to make plans for each day.

As surveying and construction continued, the locals escalated their efforts. They would erect signs in their fields to block the sightlines of the surveyors, and stand next to survey crews running their chainsaws to disrupt their work. Survey stakes disappeared overnight. Farmers used their trucks to make roadblocks and their tractors to pile boulders in the construction sites. One group even gained permission from the county to improve a rural road—they dug a ditch across it to stop all traffic.

They filed more lawsuits, and the issue was eventually taken up by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which in the spirit of everything it represents, decided against the farmers and in favor of the powerline. Many of the citizens opposing the pipeline had earnestly believed in institutions like the Supreme Court and the structures of power. After their battles through the courts, many of them were disillusioned and had been radicalized.

Law enforcement began escorting construction and survey workers, and the situation came to a head on January 4th 1978, when 100 farmers chased powerline crews from three different sites, fought with police, and even tore down part of a tower. The next week, the Minnesota Governor ordered the largest mobilization of the State Troopers in Minnesota’s history, with 200 Troopers—fully half of the force—descended on the rural area to ensure construction continued.

Protests continued and grew, as the issue began to draw national and international media attention; hundreds turned out for rallies at survey sites, and some schools even let out so students and teachers could attend. In St. Paul, thousands of farmers rallied and demonstrated, and in March of 1978 more than 8,000 people marched almost ten miles through freezing temperatures from Lowry to Glenwood to protest the CU powerline.

It was in the heat of August that the kettle boiled over. Bolts on one of the transmission towers were loosened, and soon afterwards, it fell over, as the Bolt Weevils entered the scene. Then three more fell over. Guard poles and bolts were cut and loosened, insulators were shot out. Over the next few years, 14 towers were felled and nearly 10,000 insulators were shot out. Soon, helicopters patrolled the powerline, and it was made a federal offense to take down interstate transmission lines.

There were numerous arrests, some 120 in all, but only two individuals were ever convicted on felony charges, and even then they were only sentenced to community service. Opposition to the powerline was so common that in some instances, witnesses refused to testify against farmers.

In the end, unfortunately, the powerline was built and went into operation, despite the protests and the disruptions by the Bolt Weevils. While they were unsuccessful in ultimately stopping the project, there’s much from their efforts that we can learn and apply to our work today against exploitation and civilization.

As in most social struggles that turn to property destruction and militancy, that wasn’t the first choice of tactics for those on the ground. They fought for years through accepted legal and political avenues, turning to material attacks after all other courses of action had proven ineffective. But more than that, the popular agitation and organizing in the years leading up to the emergence of the Bolt Weevils didn’t merely precede militant direct action: it laid the groundwork for it.

The work of the local farmers—their protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and community organizing—paved the way (forgive the phrase) and set the conditions for the sabotage that would later occur. By mobilizing residents and community members against the project, building social networks, and agitating and raising opposition against CU powerline, a collective culture of resistance was created, planting and watering the seeds from which the Bolt Weevils were born.

With civilization churning onwards towards biotic collapse and underground resistance the only real hope left, caring for those seeds is our primary duty today. The story of the Bolt Weevils—like countless other stories of resistance—shows that militant resistance emerges from strong and supportive cultures of resistance. The time to start building such a culture was yesterday. For those of us who choose to organize and work in an aboveground and legal way, building such a culture that embraces and celebrates sabotage and the use of any means necessary to stop the omnicide of industrialism is our foremost task.

The story of the Bolt Weevils isn’t empowering and inspiring because they “fought off the bad guys and won.” They didn’t win. The power lines were built, forced down their throats in the face of their resistance. No, their story is inspiring because it so clearly and undeniably demonstrates how simply feasible sabotage and material attacks truly are. Often, we talk about militant resistance and direct action as mysterious and abstract things, things that wouldn’t ever happen in our lives or communities, things that no one as ordinary as any of us would ever do.

Whether we romanticize underground action or are intimidated by it, we generally talk about it as though it is something out of a movie or a novel. The truth is that such actions are simply tactics—just like petition-drives or street marches—that can be used to dismantle systems of power. The Bolt Weevils—a group of farmers with hunting rifles and hacksaws*—serve as a stark reminder that one doesn’t require military training and high-tech gadgets to act in direct and material ways against the infrastructure of destruction. We’re all capable of fighting back, and while sabotage against industrial infrastructure can be daunting for many valid reasons, technicality isn’t one of them.

We may have to fail working through other channels (as if we haven’t already) before collectively turning to sabotage and attacks on industrial infrastructure as a strategy, and we will certainly need to build a supportive and strong culture of resistance. But if we’re serious about stopping the destruction and exploitation of civilization, we will be left with no other choice.

*This is speculative. I don’t actually know how they shot out insulators or cut through guard poles, although there are plenty of accounts of hunting rifles and hacksaws being used in this fashion, and it’s from those stories that I hazard this guess.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at

Indigenous resistance forces Malaysia to scale back twelve dam megaproject

Indigenous resistance forces Malaysia to scale back twelve dam megaproject

By Agence France-Presse

A Malaysian state minister Friday said the government would not push ahead with building a dozen new dams on Borneo island, acknowledging they have caused outrage from local tribes and environmentalists.

The proposals sparked fears that the dams would destroy pristine rainforests, endanger wildlife, and displace natives in Sarawak, a Malaysian state crossed by powerful rivers with rich jungle habitats.

“It is not a firm plan to build 12 dams. I don’t think we will need that. We will only need four,” James Masing, Sarawak’s state minister of land development, told AFP in an interview.

Masing said the government was backing off in response to widespread criticism. Protests over the years have seen activists and locals staging blockades of roads into dam areas.

“I’m pleased that this type of thing (protests) takes place. Not all that we do is correct, and this shows we need to refine our plans and think again,” he said.

The now-complete Bakun mega-dam, which is not part of the new dam proposal, has already been dogged for years by claims of corruption in construction contracts, the flooding of a huge swathe of rainforest and the displacement of thousands of tribespeople.

Despite that, the government mooted constructing more dams as part of an industrial development drive to boost the resource-rich state’s backward economy.

Another dam at Murum, also deep in the interior, is nearing completion and two others are in the planning stages as part of the new proposal.

Together the four dams — at Bakun, Murum, Baleh and Baram — are already expected to put out nearly 6,000 megawatts of power, six times what Sarawak currently uses, Masing said.

“The protests are becoming more vocal on the ground so (the dam rethink) is a very good development for me,” said Peter Kallang, member of a Sarawak tribe and chairman of SAVE Rivers, an NGO that has campaigned against the dams.

However, he said plans for the Baram and Baleh dams should be scrapped as well, noting that the Baram dam would displace about 20,000 people, compared to about 10,000 at Bakun, and destroy irreplaceable forest.

He said SAVE Rivers last month organised a floating protest along the Baram river that cruised down river for three days and was met with support along the way by local tribespeople.

Kallang and other activists have also travelled abroad to lobby against the dams, including meeting officials of Hydro Tasmania, an Australian corporation that advises the Sarawak government on the dams.

The Tasmania government corporation pledged in December after meeting the activists that it would pull its personnel out of Sarawak by the end of 2013, Kallang said.

Sarawak’s tribes — ethnically distinct from Malaysia’s majority Malays — fear that they will lose their ancestral lands and hunting and burial grounds, as the government encourages them to make way for projects and move into new settlements.

Those are equipped with medical clinics, electricity, and Internet access. But village elders and activists say alcoholism, drug use, and crime are on the increase and anger is rising over continuing encroachment on native lands.

In one of the blockades in 2011, Penan tribespeople blocked roads into their lands for a week to protest logging and alleged river pollution by Malaysian firm Interhill until the blockade was dismantled by authorities.

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