Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thousands join anti coal-plant protest on Earth Day

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines - Thousands of environmental rights activists turned Earth Day celebration into protest, denouncing the proposed use of coal-fired power plants in the southern Philippine town of Maasim.

“This protest-rally is a proof of the people’s vehement opposition to the planned coal-fired power plant in the Municipality of Maasim” said Fr. Roming Catedral, director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel and main organizer of the protest.

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, of the Diocese of Marbel town, also spoke in the rally and encouraged the crowd to continue opposing the project.

In a manifesto signed by various groups, the protesters expressed their strong opposition to the project and called on concerned government agencies and the proponent company – Conal Holdings Corporation (CHC), to abandon the plan.

“We reiterate our reasons and arguments based on facts and experiences that the project will not bring sustainable development to the people of SOSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Sarangani provinces and General Santos City) but rather aggravate environmental degradation and will eventually pose problems to human health”, the manifesto said.

It said: “Southern Mindanao Power Plant (SM200) will not serve the people of SOCSKSARGEN” but will only enrich the business interest of the dominant local elite and that of Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI), holder of the multibillion Tampakan Gold and Copper project based in Tampakan, South Cotabato."

The protesters said they will continue to oppose the project until the government realizes the effects of coal-powered plant to the environment.

“Conal Holdings Corporation (CHC) owns Kamanga Coal Fired Power Plant (now called Southern Mindanao Powerplant). Alson, Inc. owns the Filipino majority shares in SMI. Both companies (Conal Holdings Corporation and Alsons, Inc.) belong to the Alcantara group of companies. It is not illogical to assume that Kamanga Coal Fired Power Plant will serve the needs of SMI. CHC’s plan is to eventually produce 900MW. SMI, when it starts its operation would need about 400MW,” Catedral said.

Coal plant operators assured they are complying with environment safety measures.

But the protesters argued that there is no such thing as clean coal operations. They said the technology that CONAL plans to use in its proposed CFPP called Circulating Fluidized Bed combustion Technology (CFBCT) will not yield zero carbon emissions.

They said the plant could release more carbon dioxide emissions since CFBCT will allow the use of low grade coal or a mixture of low grade and high grade coal or other fuel such as biomass.”

“Coal is the dirtiest source of energy. Coal plants emit billions of tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere each year that accounts to 72% of CO2 emissions from power generation and 41% of total global emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels. Coal burning also emits chemicals including Sulphur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and other Particulate Matters (PM) that are hazardous to health” said Jean Marie Ferraris, of the Davao City-based Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-KsK/FoE Phils).

The group warned also of wanton environmental destruction that would result from coal mining to supply the power plant needs.

“Coal extraction to be used in the plant necessitates topsoil and vegetation removal in many areas, where surface mining will require the removal of 500-800 feet or more of elevation by blowing up these mountains using millions of pounds of explosives,” Catedral said.

“In our case, Conal has already entered into a supply deal with Sultan Mining and Energy Development Corp (SMEDC). SMEDC through its subsidiary MG Mining and Energy Corp. (MGMEC) and Sultan Energy Philipines Coroporation (SEPC) now holds a Coal Operating Contracts (COC) and is about to mine around 7,000 hectares of agricultural and forest lands in Brgy. Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The area is actually part of a Protected Watershed Declaration,” Catedral added.

The potential for water pollution, according to the groups manifesto, is also alarming. “Coal is washed and treated before it is loaded on trains, the excess water left over of which, called coal slurry or sludge are stored in open coal impoundments. Coal sludge is a mix of water, coal dust, clay and toxic chemicals such as arsenic mercury, lead, copper, and chromium. Impoundments are held in place by mining debris, making them very unstable – waiting for another disaster”

The operation of coal fired power plants and the coal mines that provide it with fuel also run counter to government’s own avowed efforts to combat climate change the protesters asserted. “Climate change is everybody’s concern and should be addressed now. It is the greatest environmental threat of today where thousands have already died because of its impacts,” Ferraris emphasized.

The protesters urged the government to invest and rechannel resources to the development of the country’s enormous renewable energy sources including solar and wind.

"We also urge the government to come up with a sustainable energy framework based on the principles of economic, environmental and social justice” Ferraris stressed.

The same protest action will also be held today in Koronadal City to manifest their continued opposition to Minining in South Cotabao especially the Copper-Gold Project in Tampakan and coal mining in Brgy. Ned Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Among the signatories of the manifesto include the Social Action Center, Diocese of Marbel, HESED Foundation – Oblates of Notre Dame, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-KsK/FoE-Phils), SOCSKSARGENDS AGENDA, Sta. Cruz Parish Against Pollution (SCPAP), Hublag Kontra Mina (HUKOM), Columbio Multi-Sectoral Ecology Movement (CMEM), Local Parishes, Panalipdan Youth and PAMALAKAYA. (Erwin Quinones)

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