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Emergency powers trump environment laws–legislator

/ 05:47 AM December 15, 2014
reynaldo umali

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–The chair of the House energy committee confirmed that the recently approved Joint Resolution No. 21 of the House of Representatives would be used to suspend the country’s environmental laws in order to allow at least two power plants to operate during the expected power shortfall in summer.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said the government would run the Malaya power plant of Salcon Power Corp. and the Ilijan power plant of Korea Electric Power Co. (Kepco) to boost power reserves.

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“For example, Malaya (which uses bunker fuel) will be put into operation even if it violates the emission (standards) under the Clean Air Act. We have to suspend the operability of these laws for a limited period of time when we need these plants,” said Umali in an interview aired on dzBB radio.

He noted the fate of the Sucat power plant that was mothballed for exceeding emission limits under the Clean Air Act.

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A similar case is that of the Ilijan plant of Kepco which will not be commissioned unless the Biofuels Act is suspended.

“That plant runs on pure diesel and we have to suspend the operability of the Biofuels Act before we can utilize it. I think Senator (Sergio) Osmeña knows the need for this plant which will be useless without the joint resolution,” said Umali.

Umali said the Ilijan plant would add 500 megawatts (MW) and the Malaya plant another 650 MW if these were allowed to operate in the summer.

He said the plants would be used for only one to two weeks, the peak period.

‘Dirty’ power plants

Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said the use of “dirty” power plants belonging to big companies was the main reason he was against the grant of emergency powers to President Aquino for what he called a phantom power shortage.

“That is exactly our warning with the emergency powers—the exemption of diesel plants and other easily installable plants from the necessary environment permits. These are expensive plants which should not be permitted without public consent as required in pertinent laws,” Ridon said.

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Joint Resolution No. 21 provides that: “All national government agencies and local government units are hereby authorized to suspend the operability of pertinent laws, rules and regulations including, but not limited to, mitigating measures adopted for the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market, the Biofuels Act, the Clean Air Act, the Philippine Grid Code, the Philippine Distribution Code that may affect the operation and transmission of the contracted generation capacities under this joint resolution, to ensure the timely commissioning and utilization thereof.’”

Umali denied Bayan Muna’s claim that the emergency powers to be given to President Aquino for five months in 2015 would be used for coal-fired plants that would go on stream only after next year’s power crisis.

One of the plants the party-list group was referring to was the 600-MW coal-fired plant at the Subic Freeport. The plant is to be operated by Redondo Peninsula Energy Inc., a consortium of Aboitiz Power Corp., Manila Electric Co. and Taiwan Cogen Corp.

“If the plant is not running by March next year, it will not be allowed by the government,” Umali said.

But Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the coal plants and others that burn rice husks or biomass would benefit from the suspension of the Clean Air Act to accommodate Malaya.

“What’s wrong with the emergency power bill is that the laws it suspends are unlimited and are not even specified. Even congressmen who voted for it don’t know which laws will be suspended. This (administration) has no concern at all for the victims of calamities and climate change. We should be the first in the battle against emissions that aggravate climate change instead of leading in making it worse,” said Colmenares.

Aside from the Redondo plant, Colmenares said the emergency powers would benefit five other plants:

— The 135-MW Puting Bato coal plant of South Luzon Thermal Energy Corp. It is owned by Ayala Corp. and Trans-Asia Oil and Energy Development Corp.

— The twin 150-MW plant in Calaca, Batangas of DMCI Holdings’ South Luzon Power Generation.

— The 2-MW biomass-fired plant of San Jose City Power Corp.

— The 12.5-MW rice husk-fired plant of Bataan 2020 Inc.

— The 20-MW biomass plant of Isabela Biomass Corp.

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TAGS: Congress, emergency power, environment, Laws, power plants, Reynaldo Umali, Terry Ridon
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