Coal plant project in La Union sparks protests

LA UNION, Philippines – If you’ve been to La Union for surfing, chances are you’ve been coming back since then. It’s accessible from Manila, perfect for quick, invigorating weekend getaways.

What if one day you could no longer do this because of fossil fuel pollution? For a province with agri-tourism as part of its development goals, that can’t happen right?

This is why residents – represented by local environmental groups Save Luna and Koalisyon Isalbar ti Pintas ti La Union (Save the Beauty of La Union Coalition) – are opposed to Global Luzon Energy Development Corporation's (GLEDC) plan to build and operate a 670-megawatt coal-fired power plant (CFPP) in Luna, a town rich in natural resources and cultural assets.

Based on GLEDC's timeline, the construction of the power plant on a 41-hectare land of rolling thick vegetation, beside a coral area, is set to begin in August.

The DENR has not yet issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to GLEDC.

On July 13, the Save the Beauty of La Union Coalition held another "Break Free from Fossil Fuel" rally and chose San Fernando City to call on Governor Emmanuel Ortega III and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan  to immediately pass an anti-coal ordinance just like what was done in Ilocos Norte, Bohol, and other provinces. (READ: Bohol's no-coal ordinance 'an important victory' – advocate)

The group’s legal counsel attorney Romeo Camacho said this was their way of presenting their opposition to the governor and the provincial council. He added that provincial officials have been reluctant to meet with them for a dialogue on the power plant.

Effects 

Camacho said that if the project is implemented, the verdant forest in Luna would be replaced by two buildings spewing ash into the atmosphere. 

The power plant is projected to suck about 111 million liters of sea water – roughly the equivalent of 44 Olympic sized swimming pool – per hour. With this, coastal water nutrients will be lost instantaneously, affecting the coral reefs and marine resources dependent on the nutrients. 

Those opposed to the power plant said the facility will then discharge roughly the same amount of “processed” polluted, hot marine waste water to the coastal shore.

The waste water is expected to go beyond Luna waters, and into neighboring towns' coral reefs, fishery resources, and ecotourism sites like San Juan, the surfing capital of the North. The water heated by the plant’s cooling system will also blanch and damage hypersensitive corals. 

Once the  power plant starts spewing waste, on-site and neighboring natural resources will become degraded and eventually destroyed, the environment groups said. 

To be directly affected, they said, are fisherfolk, farmers, and those who depend on Mt Kangisitan, the only remaining rainforest in La Union. The power plant will also contribute to global warming which, the groups said, were not considered in the GLEDC's Environmental Study Impact (EIS) report.  (READ: Environment groups file case vs DENR,  DOE over coal plants proliferation)

The GLEDC had reportedly promoted the power plant as a potential future tourist destination  but locals opposed to the project said this was a mere figment of the project proponents' imagination.

"Not many normal intelligent people prefer to spend their vacations in the shadow of a large coal-fired power plant," a local said.

Luna has museums and an art gallery, as well as hotels and resorts frequented by tourists. In the immediate vicinity of the proposed plant is a heritage park dedicated to the heroism of United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) soldiers in World War II. Within the 5 to 20 aerial-kilometer radius of the proposed coal-fired plant are the towns of Balaoan, known for its bountiful corn harvests and biodiverse coral gardens, and surfing destination San Juan.

Earlier reports said the plant wil generate thousands of jobs and contribute P500 million to the local government in real property tax alone, but local groups said GLEDC has yet to address the related issue of potential loss of employment in the seafood and tourism industries, which are continuously growing compared to the plant which will become static once established. Another is the cost of environmental degradation and to public health. Based on studies, these often exceed the benefits that might accrue from creations of coal power plants. 

These were confirmed in the technical review (TR) of GLEDC's EIS report conducted by Camacho's group composed of 4 technical experts: Ruben Alabanza Guieb, a retired environmental scientist from the US; Rudolph Santarromana, born in Luna now based in Portugal, who finished Dual MSc Energy Engineering and Management; an international ECC consultant from Luna; and an agricultural and biosystems specialist from San Fernando whose names have been withheld for security reasons. 

'Harassment of locals'

According to Camacho, one of the members of the TR panel was harassed by armed men when he spoke up against the coal-fired power plant during one of the  GLEDC's information campaigns.

Two more harassment incidents were also reported and confirmed. One was when people from the local government were asking local business owners to submit a letter endorsing the coal-fired power plant. One resort owner "was visited4 times and was told that Mayor Vic Marron will call and follow-up." Another business owner was threatened that the Office of the Mayor has the power to close the applicant's business.

 While these incidents had been reported to the police, they came out with a "no harassment incident" report, Camacho said, prompting him to reported this to the Commission of Human Rights. The CHR issued summons to the 4 employees of the LGU to appear before the commission on July 25 to answer the complaint.

Petition

To stop the project, the Save the Beauty of La Union Coalition has initiated on online petition addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Senators Cynthia Villar and Sherwin Gatchalian, La Union Representatives Pablo Ortega and Sandra Eriguel, the La Union governor, La Union Vice Governor Aureo Nisce, and Luna Mayor Victor Marron.

The petitioners seek the following:

The petition has gathered 1,675 signatures as of posting. 

GLEDC said in earlier reports that the project will commence by the third quarter of the year, once it secures the ECC from the DENR. Under this timeline, the project will be completed by the first quarter of 2021 and will become fully operational by first quarter of 2022. – Rappler.com