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Bataan coal-fired power plant’s operation stopped amid complaints of ‘ash fall’

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has ordered SMC Consolidated Power Corp. (SMCCPC) to stop the operation of its coal-fired power plant in Limay, Bataan, in the wake of black ashes falling from the skies affecting hundreds of residents living nearby.

The stop order came after Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez ordered an investigation into the reported ash fall that residents blame to the operation of a nearby coal-fired power plant.

This is the not the first time that an  ash fall incident occurred affecting several communities in Limay, Bataan.

The stop order was handed down by the regional office of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in Central Luzon for SMCCPC “to stop any activity inside its coal-fired power plant in Limay, Bataan”.

The ash fall reportedly caused several residents to fall ill.

The DENR-EMB Central Luzon office also directed the nearby Petron Bataan Refinery (PBR) to “stop from dumping newly generated bottom ash” in the area while the ash-spill incident is being investigated.

The two directives, both dated January 6, 2017, were issued by Regional Director Lormelyn Claudio of EMB Region 3, which is based in San Fernando City, Pampanga.

The EMB, a line bureau of the DENR, is responsible for the implementation of various environmental laws, rules and regulations, including Presidential Decree (PD) 1586, or the law establishing the Environmental Impact Assessment System that requires an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to ensure that a development project will not cause adverse environmental impacts.

In a Notice of Alleged Violation issued to SMCCPC, the EMB wanted the power firm to explain why the ECC for its Limay facility should not be revoked or canceled due to the ash spill. “Notice is hereby served in connection with the dumping of bottom ash, at [SMCCPC’s] facility in Limay, Bataan. This allegedly caused unmitigated spread of ash which affected the health conditions of the residents in the host community,” the notice read.

The EMB is giving SMCCPC a period of seven days from receipt of the notice to explain why it should not be penalized under PD 1586, and why its ECC should not be revoked or suspended.

“Failure to attend will qualify you to be considered in default, and the case shall be resolved based in evidence on record,” the EMB warned SMCCPC.

Meanwhile, the EMB said the latest order against PBR was based on the notice of violation it issued against the oil facility last December 28, when the ash spill in Limay was first reported.

The EMB said it was inclined to issue a new order against PBR, “considering the most recent reports and information on the alleged skin diseases caused by the dumping of bottom ash at [SMCCPC’s] facility.”

SMCCPC and Petron Corp. are both subsidiaries of San Miguel Corp., one of the country’s most diversified and biggest conglomerates. Petron Corp. operates the PBR, which is the largest integrated crude oil refinery and petrochemicals complex in the country.

‘Not ours’—Petron Corp.

Meanwhile, Petron Corp. issued a statement claiming it has nothing to do with the incident.

“Our ash pond is located within our facility and near our offices. It has the necessary regional and local permits from the DENR, is surrounded by dikes and regularly watered to prevent dispersion,” Petron said in a statement sent out to the media on Monday.

“Ash from the pond, certified by DENR as nonhazardous, will be used as raw material for our cement-manufacturing plant.”

According to Petron Corp., reports of ash spill and tons of ash found along the coastline of a distant river, which is almost a kilometer away from our facility, are not true.

Petron Corp. claimed the river near where it operates is clean, as the company carries out “adequate measures to contain our bottom ash to avoid dispersion.”

The company also welcomes both the government and the media to visit its facility.

“We want to show you a side of this whole story, that we believe, would make it complete and accurate,” the statement said.

Nevertheless, the company assured that it will continue to assist the affected residents and vowed to work with the DENR and the municipality “to do what is right and necessary.”

A cause for alarm

Meanwhile, environmental group Greenpeace said the reported ash fall in Bataan is a cause for alarm, highlighting the group’s campaign against the operation of coal-fired power plants.

Reuben Muni, climate and energy campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines, said: “Greenpeace is one with the communities in Limay, Bataan, who are affected by the coal ash spill of the Limay coal plant of San Miguel Corp. We join the people of Limay in demanding a thorough, objective and transparent investigation of said incident.”

According to Muni, the incident should not be treated as “isolated”, given that the Philippines has a very weak regulatory structure when it comes to emissions control and pollutions standards.”

“This is also a reminder to the Duterte administration that pursuing a path of industrial development powered by fossil fuels, especially coal, benefits only the oligarchs who will never suffer the same impacts that communities hosting coal plants experience. The costs to public health and the environment should be the top considerations in  considering what kind of development our government should pursue. Coal only benefits the interests of the few,” he said.

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