La Union deserves a coal-free future – congresswoman

MANILA, Philippines – A congresswoman has urged her fellow lawmakers to leave a lasting legacy for future generations by looking into measures that would eliminate the country's dependence on coal power.

Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines (Senior Citizen) Representative Milagros Magsaysay made the call in a privilege speech earlier this week, as she stated her position against the 670-megawatt coal-fired power plant set to be built in Luna, La Union. 

Magsaysay stressed that now was the “opportune time to shape the future of our national progress, as one that would leave more gains to the succeeding generations while tempering out our losses.”

"We deserve a future free from coal," she said in the part of her speech addressed to the people of La Union.

She called on the House committee on energy, in particular, to revisit Republic Act No. 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008.

"As I am not in the sage position to answer my own inquiries, may I implore my more able, respected colleagues from the House Committee on Energy to look into strengthening the mandate this notable House of Representatives first introduced some 10 years ago with the advent of RA 9513, and perhaps look into lessening or even, if possible, eradicating our dependence on coal power," she said.

"The evils and perils it aims to eradicate have continued to persist," Magsaysay said of the law, which would be 10 years old by December 16.

Environment advocates view the continued use of coal for power generation as among these "evils." 

Magsaysay noted that coal-fired power plants continued to be a major power source in the country despite the role of carbon emissions in global warming.

If others did it, why not La Union?

Magsaysay noted that if areas like Bohol, Masbate, Guimaras, Ilocos Norte, Ormoc in Leyte, South Cotabato, Sorsogon, and Sariaya town in Quezon have banned coal, why can’t the province of La Union do the same?

Magsaysay asked if the economic benefits of the  Luna power plant – half a billion pesos in tax revenues and 3,000 jobs for locals, as claimed by Luna Mayor Victor Marron – would not be enough to compensate for the plant's long-term effects on the environment.

She said one did not have to be a scientist to know what coal plants bring. The World Health Organization  (WHO) has identified coal as the number one source of air pollution. Nine out of 10 people are exposed to it globally.

Every year, global coal emissions reach up to 100 million per tons, ending up in ponds, lakes, and landfills and over time can contaminate waterways, drinking water sources, irrigations, farmlands and fishing grounds. 

In her presentation, Magsaysay showed hundreds of families displaced by the coal plants in Limay, Bataan.

The Petron Bataan Refinery and the nearby San Miguel Consolidated Power Corporation have been operating there since 2013 and 2016, respectively, and locals within the stack radius of these plants have reportedly developed respiratory problems, skin infections, ann experienced dizziness as a result of exposure to coal waste or ash, claimed a local interviewed by the Bataan Coal-Free Movement.

According to the municipal health office, the number one cause of morbidity in Limay town is acute respiratory infection/upper respiratory tract infection. The number of residents recorded with this illness rose from 9,009 in 2010 to 12,274 in 2015.  

Magsaysay warned that La Union faced the same future if nothing was done now.

Luna town is an idyllic fishing community brimming with potential for development, especially its historic pebbled beaches complementing to La Union's place and popularity as the surfing capital of the North, said the congresswoman. (READ: La Union beyond surfing)

The Carisquis-Darigayos fishing communities are home to shellfish, crustaceans, octopus, and seaweeds – marine life known to retain toxic elements from coal plant waste.

Magsaysay also noted that the Philippines ranks fifth among countries most vulnerable to climate change, according to the Climate Risk Index. 

She reminded her fellow lawmakers of the Paris climate deal which gives national and local governments a more proactive role in regulating and reducing threats to global warming, and that the Philippines, as a signatory to the deal, committed to phase out coal by 2050.

Updates on Luna power plant

In La Union, the respective government offices had received a copy of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) and enviromental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in relation to the construction of the Luna coal-fired power plant.

La Union Governor Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III said his office was reviewing the documents.

Retired US scientist Ruben Guieb said that based on his analysis of the EIS report prepared by project proponent Global Luzon Energy Development Corporation (GLEDC), the environmental consequences of the power plant outweigh the economic gains.

He said GLEDC was not able to show that it can reduce the environmental impact of the plant to an insignificant level through clear, quantifiable mitigating measures. The same is true, he said, for the project's  socioeconomic and agri-tourism impact.

Guieb said the government should welcome outside experts openly sharing their professional expertise and opinions, which all concerned parties can use for productive technical discussions. 

 “This will definitely contribute to the development of a robust science-based EIS – one that benefits all,” he added.

Guieb, who read the final EIS, said that there were "hardly any changes" from the draft version. "None of the EIS/environmental concerns raised in the two tech review reports given by opposition groups were addressed at all. Sad,” he said.

Groups opposed to the Luna power plant, represented by lawyer Romeo Camacho said they would submit to the governor a copy of their review of the draft and final EIS. 

When asked, Camacho agreed that the governor should take this opportunity to schedule a dialogue, which the governor had promised to do  “at the right time.”

Biosystems and agricultural engineer Bob Nebrida also agreed.

“Indeed he should. After all, these anti-CFPP advocates are his strong supporters in his agri and ecological program, which is making his province one of the fastest growing tourism destinations north of Manila,” Nebrida said.

Aside fro surfing, La Union is also known for its waterfalls, grape-picking, marine reserves, and heritage attractions.

Nebrida also challenged the governor to ask the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to pass an urgent ordinance to ban coal in his province. 

If he does, “the governor will long be remembered as the young politician who really made a lasting, positive difference" in La Union. – Rappler.com