Advocates hit low bar set in environmental protection
Jose Rodel Clapano (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An environmental think tank said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) fell short in protecting the environment and warned that pollution from coal plants was more dangerous than ashfall coming from an erupting volcano.

The Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) on Tuesday called on the DENR not to pat themselves too much on the back for their work in the past year, especially in light of the recent panic brought about by the eruption of Taal Volcano.

“With residents in Batangas, surrounding provinces and Metro Manila hoarding as many face masks as they could find in the face of dangerous pollution brought by a natural disaster, Taal’s eruption and the public health panic that accompanied it should serve as a nudge to the DENR,” CEED executive director Gerry Arances said. 

He said DENR was accountable for “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.”

Veronica Cabe of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement said in the past week “we have seen how mere hours of spewed pollutants brought much trepidation and rightful concern especially for the welfare of populations with sensitive health in the areas affected by the volcanic ashfall.”

She said ashfall “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.”

The CEED said that 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.

“For communities living near the 29 coal-fired power plants currently operating in the Philippines, particulate matter, toxic gas and pollutants float in the air on a daily basis,” Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, said.

While the department’s milestones such as the rehabilitation of Manila Bay must be acknowledged, Aaron Pedrosa, secretary general of Sanlakas, asserted that “air pollution is a problem the DENR simply cannot wash its hands of.”

Citing a 2016 Harvard University study on coal pollution which claimed 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.” 


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