Bataan community asks Gina Lopez to close SMC coal plant
MANILA, Philippines – With some of their children in tow, about 100 concerned residents of a village in Bataan province trooped to the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) headquarters in Pasig City on Tuesday, February 14, to protest the conglomerate’s power plants that operate in their community.
They complained of health problems, including skin and respiratory diseases, that were allegedly caused by the plants operated by the SMC in Bataan province. They claimed that many of them fell ill since the alleged ash spill near SMC's power facility in Barangay Lamao in Limay town in early January this year.
"Patuloy 'yung perwisyo. Hindi lang 'yung ash. Pati 'yung amoy. 'Yung amoy gigisingin ka kahit natutulog ka sa hatinggabi. Sobrang nakasusulasok!” according to Derec Cabe of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement.
(It was not only the ash fall that burdened us but also the odor that the facility emits. The smell will wake you up even at midnight. You have the urge to vomit!)
Alvin Pura, who brought his children to the rally, echoed this sentiment.
“'Yung lalamunan namin parang laging may nakabara 'pag nakakaamoy kami ng mabaho,” he said. (It feels like something blocks our throat every time we smell the foul odor.)
Pollutants that are allegedly discharged by the coal plants have triggered his wife's asthma attacks, Pura added.
Between January and February 14, the Coal-free Bataan Movement documented at least 649 health complaints that were allegedly caused by the power plants. More than half of those affected were children and teenagers, aged between zero and 17. They mainly suffer from cough and colds, tuberculosis, and skin rashes.
Will DENR sanction SMC?
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) earlier gave assurances that it would coordinate with the Department of Health (DOH) to validate the complaints.
It also issued directives halting the dumping of ash in the shared byproduct storage facility of the SMC-affiliated plants following the reported ash spill.
On Tuesday, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez reiterated that her agency is investigating the incident, but the protesters have grown restless and impatient.
“Isang buwan na ang nakalipas, wala pa ring sagot. Ano ba, may penalty ba? Ano bang sanction ang ipinatupad nila sa San Miguel at Petron?” Cabe asked.
(A month has passed, but there’s still no word from the department. Is there any penalty? Have they imposed sanctions on San Miguel and Petron?)
The SMC Consolidated Power Corporation (SMCCPC) 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 140-megawat plant of the Petron Bataan Fuel Refinery – both SMC subsidiaries – are located in the area.
‘Best solution in ensuring energy security’
Meanwhile, in a statement, SMC claimed that the reported ash that spilled was limestone dust, which the DENR certified as non-toxic.
“Local health officials ascertained that isolated cases of skin allergies were scabies, which were not attributable to limestone dust,” SMC said, without addressing other health complaints.
SMC also clarified that there is no more temporary ash pond in its complex.
“There is no need for it anymore after the company was granted a permit by the DENR to haul its limestone bottom ash out of the property to the kiln to be used as raw material for cement production,” it said.
SMC added that the cleaner Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) technology that its power plants use is "currently the best solution in ensuring energy security and affordability to power consumers while the country transitions to a sustainably clean energy economy.”
Coal-fired power plants remain the Philippine’s largest energy source at 29%. Coal is considered the cheapest source of energy, but it is also one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the culprit behind climate change. (READ: Coal-minded leaders left behind by green energy growth - Al Gore)
‘New clean coal technology'
However, SMC Global Power, the power generation subsidiary of SMC, claimed that continuous testing since January of its new clean coal technology power plant in Limay yielded emission results that complied with government and World Bank (WB) standard limits. The plant started operations in February.
Based on the recent results of government-mandated daily testing, Unit-1 of the Limay Plant consistently produced low levels of sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter.
Sulphur oxide was only at 41 parts per million (ppm), compared to the 245 ppm limit set by the DENR and the 700 ppm limit set by the WB.
Nitrogen oxide was at only 92 ppm, against the DENR’s 365 ppm limit and the WB’s 487 ppm threshold.
Carbon monoxide was at a mere 4 ppm during the latest testing. The DENR limit is 400 ppm, while the WB does not set any limit.
In terms of clearness of the air, which is also used to indicate particulate matters, the Limay plant registered just 0.8%, with dust at only 2.4 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/Nm3). The World Bank standard for particulate matters is 50 mg/Nm3 and the DENR’s is 150 mg/Nm3.
No such thing as clean coal
Environmentalists, however, maintained that there is no such thing as clean coal technology.
"Coal plants which utilize CFB technology produce more coal ash than conventional ones since they add limestone to pulverize coal during the combustion process,” Ian Rivera, the national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), said in a statement.
PMCJ argued that since the SMC plants in Limay use the CFB technology, it resulted to a huge pile-up of bottom ash near the area where there are communities.
“We strongly call on SMC to face the music and stop beating around the bush. The real problem is your bottom ash and the question of the legality of your ash pond. So long as this is not properly addressed, the suffering of the people continues,” Rivera said.
For PMCJ, the only way to address the issue is to stop the operation of SMC's plants in Limay.
"Our demand is for the DENR to immediately order a shutdown of the coal plants' operations, indemnify the affected community, suspend incompetent regional DENR officers, and include both coal plants as priority in the ECC audit to be conducted by the department. – Rappler.com