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. Russia Scraps Lake Baikal Protection For Siberia-Pacific Pipeline

Environmentalists warn that the route for the pipeline, which would skirt the northern shores of the world's largest fresh-water lake for dozens of kilometers, poses a major threat to the pristine environment of Baikal (pictured), which is classified by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Apr 13, 2006
Russia's parliament Wednesday scrapped legal environmental protection for Siberia's Lake Baikal to facilitate construction of a controversial pipeline linking Siberia to the Pacific Coast. In a surprise vote, the State Duma lower house of Parliament amended Russia's water resources code, which originally protected the zone around Lake Baikal.

The Duma had adopted the code in a final reading last week and transferred it to the upper house of parliament, but deputies from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party unexpectedly called a new, unplanned Duma reading Wednesday.

An overwhelming majority of deputies -- 330 against 98 -- then voted to repel the protection, in a move sharply criticized by independendent and left-wing lawmakers.

"The government is lobbying on behalf of oil groups and other monopolies," said independent deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov.

"With this vote, we are helping to destroy a unique lake," said Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin.

Environmentalists warn that the route for the pipeline, which would skirt the northern shores of the world's largest fresh-water lake for dozens of kilometers, poses a major threat to the pristine environment of Baikal, which is classified by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.

In addition to regular pipeline malfunctions, the area around Lake Baikal is prone to earthquakes. A strong earthquake could rupture the planned high-pressure pipeline and lead to massive spillage of crude oil into the lake, experts say.

Activists opposed to the route say a rally last month in the Siberian city of Irkutsk drew more than 5,000 people and included public addresses against the pipeline project by key regional politicians.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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