Living with Kepco and coalCebu Daily News
Because Cebu can’t live with brownouts, rotating or not, the province will have to manage its growth with a wary eye for the danger of coal ash pollution and acid rain.
When President Benigno Aquino III inaugurated the 220-megawatt power plant of the Korean Electric Company-SPC in Naga last Monday, his presence was more than ceremonial.
He gave coal-fired plants, the bane of environmental crusaders with their emissions of sulfur dioxide, greenhouse gases and deposits of coal combustion waste, his imprimatur.
How sad, and how dangerous.
We would have been more impressed if Aquino had thundered a challenge to the plant’s Korean investors. He could have threatened the full force of the law, even closure, if the company fails to deliver on its promise of “clean coal technology” and abide by emission and waste disposal standards.
Not that Filipinos don’t make gracious hosts.
But from previous months’ experience with secret truck haulings of coal ash residue in Naga and Toledo cities by parties unwilling to identify their industrial source, and the ordeal of Naga residents who found specks of coal dust flying into their homes and gardens from an open stockyard of delivered coal, which prompted Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Naga Mayor Val Chiong to temporarily pull back Kepco’s business permit, we have reason to be wary.
Coal-fired power plants will keep Cebuanos in a cat-and-mouse game of enforcement of environment standards for the lifetime of these facilities.
It was surprising to hear President Aquino gush about Kepco-SPC being “very friendly to the environment.” That kind of glowing track record has yet to be demonstrated in its host city and province.
He should have said coal ash is listed as an “air pollutant” in the Philippine Clean Air Act or Republic Act No. 8749 and that standards would be strictly imposed, with no favored status.
Aquino apparently had not read the well-documented stories in the Cebu press since 2009 about the tricky choices being made for coal ash waste pits in the submerged Balili property and tests for toxic metal content in heaps of ash found in open fields.
He could have asked the environment court of Judge Marilyn Yap in Mandaue City. She ordered all coal-fired plants in Naga and Toledo last March 16 not to carry their ash waste outside their premises. She’s not convinced that health and safety issues have been addressed in the mysterious ash dumpings going on.
President Aquino, in his speech, described Cebu as a hostage of its own success, framing our choices as one of two evils.
“We have to balance this,” Aquino said.
“What problem do we want to deal with—unstable power supply or the coal dust issue? The problem of coal dust has a solution. There are ways to mitigate it unlike a power shortage. What can you really do with that?”
As if it’s our fault that economic growth has brought us to a checkmate.
Choosing the lesser evil is a tired practice of Philippine elections. Aquino should know that by now. It has long misled voters to aspire for a quality of life and citizenship that is far below our true capabilities and creative power.
A farther vision, one President Aquino could choose to demonstrate, would have telescoped the challenge of power generation to one of a commitment to renewable energy and finding a “balance” where economic growth and sound ecological principles coexist. He could have challenged citizens to stay vigilant.
We don’t fault Aquino for being pragmatic in saying that Cebu has to live with coal-fired plants.
But we are bothered that his outlook—seeing Third World options limited by big-ticket promises of Korean investors—doesn’t make the stretch to recognize that Cebu deserves more than that.