Energy advocates slam DENR over environmental protection issue
MANILA, Philippines — An environmental think-tank has slammed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for its apparent lack of ambition in upholding environmental protection in the country.
The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) called on the DENR not to be content with their work in the past year, citing DENR Chief Roy Cimatu’s New Year’s statement that for the year 2020, he is “confident that we will again prove to the Filipino people that indeed there is a Department that takes care of their environment and natural resources.”
The comment comes in light of the recent panic brought about by the eruption of Taal Volcano.
Gerry Arances, CEED Executive Director, said in a statement issued on Monday that Taal’s eruption and the public health panic it caused “should serve as a nudge to DENR not to place itself on too high a pedestal.”
“DENR seems to think that they have proven themselves triumphant in performing their mandate, but there is an elephant in the room which the Department can’t expect Filipinos not to point out — the role they played in the proliferation of dirty industries, especially coal facilities, that pollute the environment and threaten the health of the Filipino public,” he said.
Veronica Cabe of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement (CFBM) said the pollutants spewed by the volcanic eruption brought much trepidation and concern among the people, especially those in areas affected by the ashfall.
“The ashfall experienced by Calabarzon, Metro Manila, and surrounding provinces is a constant reality for coal-affected residents across the country, such as in the communities of Limay and Mariveles in Bataan, who regularly breathe contaminated air as if a volcano was erupting in their backyard every single day,” she said.
A more lethal particle
Compared to the ashfall of Taal consisting mostly of PM-10 and sulfur dioxide, ashfall from coal plants is comprised of PM-2.5, a particle more lethal than PM 10, and other toxic materials and carcinogenic substances such as mercury and arsenic, according to CFBM.
“For communities living near the twenty-nine coal-fired power plants currently operating in the Philippines, particulate matter, toxic gas, and pollutants float in the air on a daily basis and these already claimed lives among many of the Filipino people,” stressed Ian Rivera, National Coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).
“Many studies stressing that the proliferation of coal plants in the country is a public health concern have cast doubts on DENR’s claim that it did its best the past year to ensure that the people breathe clean air,” Rivera added.
In 2017, PMCJ led CEED and other civil society organizations and representatives of coal-affected communities in filing a petition against the DENR for its failing to do its duty under the Clean Air Act to curb air pollution and to penalize polluting coal-fired power plants not equipped with monitoring systems, and demanding it to halt issuing clearances for new coal projects.
While the Department’s milestones such as the rehabilitation of Manila Bay must be acknowledged, Aaron Pedrosa, head of the Energy Working Group of PMCJ and Secretary-General of Sanlakas, asserted that “air pollution is a problem the DENR simply cannot wash its hands off.”
The most recent issuance of an Environmental Compliance Certificate by the DENR to a coal-fired power plant project in August last year is particularly despicable, CEED said, as it threatens to mar the beauty of Palawan, and severely endangers the communities and several endemic species residing there with pollution brought by coal transport and burning.
“If this is what the DENR means by having done their ‘best’ to preserve the environment, then they are setting the bar way too low,” stressed Arances.
Citing a 2016 Harvard University study on coal pollution which revealed that at least 2,400 Filipinos are killed each year due to emissions from coal-fired power plants, Arances challenged the DENR to “rethink their standards before proudly assessing themselves as successful.”
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