Vietnam’s agriculture minister has warned a number of hydropower investors that they may lose their licenses if they fail to replant the trees they cut down.
The country lost over 76,000 hectares (187,800 acres) of forest throughout Vietnam to 2,320 industrial projects, most of which were hydropower dams.
Only roughly 7,200 hectares had been replanted by December 2014, according to figures released during a December meeting of the forestry department.
The department's deputy director, Nguyen Ba Ngai, said the replanting of forests has progressed very slowly, particularly among hydropower investors, some of whom have done nothing at all, Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper reported.
The paper quoted Ngai as saying that hydropower investors planted nearly 2,450 hectares of forest this year, meeting only 22 percent of the required target.
The investors are allowed to offer financial compensation in lieu of planting the trees themselves, but the provinces have received little of that money.
Nguyen Duc Quyen, vice mayor of the northern province of Thanh Hoa, said Trung Son, the province's most devastating project, owes more than VND30 billion (US$1.4 million) for the forest resources it has exhausted.
Dinh Viet Hong, vice mayor of Thanh Hoa's neighboring Nghe An, said the province's hydropower plants must pay for roughly 1,800 hectares of lost forest.
But the province have only received a little more than VND24 billion for 450 hectares.
Hong said the country needs some kind of deterrent to force non-compliant investors to pay up.
“The businesses are thumbing their noses at the rules," said Cao Duc Phat, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. "If they don’t fall in line, we will bring the matter before the government and National Assembly in May of 2015.”
Failure to make good on these obligations currently only carries a cash fine.
For example, one investor would be fined VND400-500 million if they failed to replant 50 hectares or more after a year.
Phat said he has asked Vu Huy Hoang, the Minister of Industry and Trade to devise a tougher punishment.
“I recommend that we revoke the license of any projects which continually delays the restoration and compensation process.”
Working on it
Duong Quang Thanh, deputy general director of the power monopoly Electricity of Vietnam, blamed provincial governments for failing to provide land for the new forests.
Thanh estimated that it has 13,850 hectares of forests worth around VND800 billion to compensate.
He said the company has made plans to spend around VND190 billion recovering 3,850 hectares of forest and has paid some to the relevant authorities.
EVN can only draft a compensation plan when a given province offers land on which to do so, but many provinces have not, he said.
He also criticized the compensation scheme as confusing, considering that those prices range between VND15 million and VND130 million per hectare, depending on the province.
Vietnam's hydropower plants have displaced thousands of people, consumed large swaths of farm land and damaged the rest by hoarding water during the dry season and discharging it during the rainy season.
They have exacerbated seasonal flooding and erosion by clearing forests from land.
Hydropower plants generate roughly 40 percent of Vietnam’s electricity.