Pollutants from coal plants to increase without strict emission standards, says international group
MANILA, Philippines — Emissions of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide from coal-fired power plants in the Philippines and four other countries in South and Southeast Asia are projected to triple by 2030 without salient changes in their emission standards, an international nongovernmental group has reported.
This may lead to additional air pollution-related deaths and diseases in the region, based on studies compiled in a new policy analysis report by Clean Air Asia.
With their coal dependence expected to further increase in the next few years, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam must implement more stringent environmental and public health safeguards from the adverse impacts of coal plants said the report, which was released last week.
The five countries are currently planning to increase coal dependence for their power generation further.
22 new coal projects
In the Philippines, despite the announcement of a moratorium on endorsements for new greenfield coal plants, 22 projects are in the pipeline and expected to result in a 135 percent increase in the country’s coal capacity.
Clean Air Asia’s policy report showed that all countries should work on the review, revision and strict implementation of emission standards for coal plants.
In the Philippines, the report highlighted that emission standards had not been updated since the Clean Air Act became effective in 2000. “In particular, the Philippines has the most lenient sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides emission standards,” it said.
The study also showed that the country was falling behind in the stringent standards for particulate matter, a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets hazardous to human health and the environment.
Most lenient standards
It reported that the Philippines’ emission standards for nitrogen oxide, even for coal plants operating after the Clean Air Act was passed, were still 10 times more lenient than those of India and five times more lenient than those of Indonesia.
The Philippines was also found to have the most lenient sulfur oxide emissions standards among the five countries.
“A review of Philippine industry emission standards has been under way since 2018 and is ongoing; however, no timeline for implementation has been discussed,” the report said.
Clean Air Asia said the Philippines and other countries should fast-track the development of more stringent emission standards to protect public health and the environment, both for new and existing coal plants.
“There must be a periodic review and revision of standards to keep up with changes in technology and public health research on the impacts of pollutants on health,” the report said.
Local environment groups have stressed the urgency to review and reform the policies that enable coal and other fossil fuels to proliferate in the country.
“When we, along with colleagues in the church and civil society, met with [Environment Secretary Roy] Cimatu in January to bring to his attention the pitiable state of air quality monitoring and emission standards in the Philippines, he promised that expediting the ongoing review and upgrading process for these would be a top priority of his office,” Gerry Arances, executive director of the energy think tank Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, told the Inquirer.
“Nearly a year later, this report by Clean Air Asia shows that the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] remains unambitious in its mandate to ensure clean air for all Filipinos,” he said.
Arances also said the government continued to “set the bar low” in determining the responsibilities of coal operators.
“Existing coal plants must be regulated with updated environmental and air pollution standards while the government should start reviewing and renegotiating coal projects in the pipeline,” said Khevin Yu, energy campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.
“The country won’t achieve a better normal if coal plants continue to operate and expand,” he said. INQ
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