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ECC of Semirara firm suspended

/ 12:20 AM July 22, 2015

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will suspend indefinitely the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) given to Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC) for its operations on Semirara Island in Antique province following the collapse of its open-pit wall, killing eight workers.

“The central office will issue a cease-and-desist order (CDO) suspending the ECC to ensure that these things will not happen again,” said Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones, who is also director of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). The order may be issued within the day, he said.

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The Department of Energy (DOE) and the DENR office in Western Visayas have issued separate CDOs against the Semirara operations.

Eight bodies have so far been recovered since a wall in the northern part of the Panian open pit of SMPC, the country’s largest coal producer, fell on July 17. Another worker is still missing and feared dead.

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In 2013, five workers were killed when another portion of the pit collapsed.

SMPC, a unit of the Consunji-led conglomerate DMCI Holdings, was issued an ECC on Aug. 12, 1999. The ECC is a document issued by the DENR through the EMB for environmentally critical projects to certify that the project will not cause significant adverse environmental impact while laying down conditions and measures to mitigate the impact.

Leones said the EMB order would be in effect “until the company implements approved mitigation measures to prevent any future incidents.” Suspending the company’s ECC will have a bigger impact since Semirara cannot resume its mining operations even if the DOE and the DENR Region 6 lift their CDOs, he said.

“We’ll review or revisit the conditions set in the ECC. They may no longer match the physical conditions in the area. We may need additional safeguards,” he said.

“The experience brought about by this incident will result in a more focused evaluation on risk as well as safety, in addition to impacts on the environment,” he added.

Leones called for stronger coordination between the DOE and the Department of Labor and Employment for coal-mining safety.

The latest accident has boosted the campaign of environmental groups to scrap all coal-mining projects and coal-fired power plants in the country.

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The multisectoral Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) and Power for People Campaign Network urged the DOE and the DENR to stop issuing permits for new plants, decommission old plants and focus on power plants that harness renewable energy.

According to PMCJ national convener Lidy Nacpil, the United States and Europe are currently phasing out their coal power plants due to environmental degradation and air pollution.

“The DOE is going against its mission of securing sustainable energy sources and is still approving coal-operating contracts and building new coal power plants,” she said in a news conference on Tuesday.

To date, the Aquino administration has approved the construction of 59 new coal power plants and has given 118 coal-mining permits, with another 15 coal power projects in the pipeline.

Leones said the call to stop the operation of coal mining and coal power plants “would require legislation at least, considering that, right now, there is no law prohibiting the use of coal as an energy resource.”

He said it was up to the DOE to regulate issuing operating licenses for coal plants.

Leones said the DENR would process ECC applications of coal power plants “for as long as the DOE will endorse coal power plants based on our energy requirements.”

In Makati City, workers and environmentalists picketed the main office of DMCI Holdings and called for justice for the fatalities. They blamed the accident on the company for its “noncompliance with safety standards and the dangers inherent to coal mining.”

More than 20 members of militant Kilusang Mayo Uno and environmentalist Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment protested in front of DMCI Plaza Building on Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension. With a report from Maricar B. Brizuela

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