COURT STOPS COAL ASH DUMPING

Posted on March 19, 2011

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Health risks are real, says judge


By Candeze R. Mongaya, Reporter
 
 
 
A Cebu environment court judge has ordered all coal-fired power plants in Naga and Toledo Cities to stop dumping their coal ash waste outside their premises.

Saying the coal ash poses “health risks to residents,” Judge Marilyn Ligura-Yap of the Mandaue City Regional Trial Court (RTC) extended the effectivity of a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) until the court case is finished.

The year-old dispute pits ecology advocates against power plant operators, whose new facilities in Cebu are being rushed to fill unmet energy demands and solve brownouts in the province.

Judge Yap, in her March 16 order, said Toledo Power Corp., Cebu Energy Development Corp. and/or Global Business Power Corp. must dispose of their coal ash only in the landfill in Landahan, Toledo City, which they have contracted with San-Vic Agro Builders while Kepco-SPC can only use the ash ponds in the plant’s premises in barangay Colon, Naga City.

The order also affects the Balili property of the Cebu provincial government in Naga, which is being developed as a landfill for coal ash residue of Kepco-SPC.

It can’t be used for that purpose, based on the court order.

Judge Yap said, “The disposal of coal ash in the Balili Property will endanger the growth and sustenance of the mangrove trees that thrive along the coastline in and serve as natural buffer from severe changes of weather conditions such as storms and heavy monsoon rains.”

She noted that since the 200-megawatt coal-fired power plant of Kepco-SCPC “will be fully operational this month of March, without an ash pond, there is no clear assurance that the coal as generated by the plant will not be transported and disposed of in the nearby barangays sach as barangay Tinaan (where the Balili Property is located) and barangay Pangdan.”

The controversy broke last year following the discovery that truckloads of blackish powder, which turned out to be coal ash, were being indiscriminately dumped in empty fields, private lots and neighborhoods in south Cebu with no one owning responsibility for the waste.

The TEPO extension was hailed as a victory in time for the celebration of milestones in March like World Water Day in March 22 and Earth Hour in March 26.

“This is a victory for environmental advocates not just in Cebu but also of the world,” said lawyer Ben Cabrido, representing Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc. one of the petitioners.

The lawsuit was filed by PEJC, Central Visayas Farmers Development Center, Central Visayas Farmers Development Center, Central Visayas Fisherfolks Development Center, and concerned residents of Toledo City and Naga City.

Cabrido said that with the court order, the Capitol’s development of a coal ash landfill in the Balili Property should be put on hold as well.

The court, in extending the ex-part TEPO, said it adheres to the “precautionary principle” laid out in the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases “so as to avoid or diminish the threat of serious and irreversible damage of coal ash on the health of the residents and on the environment, which threat is scientifically possible even though still uncertain.”

A key issue in the court dispute is the allegation that the coal ash is potentially poisonous, and should be considered a “hazardous waste.”

“Whether the toxicity levels of mercury, arsenic, chromium and lead found in coal ash is significant or not, either way, there are health risks to residents who are exposed to coal ash dump sites in the barangays,” said the court.

The judge said coal ash is listed as an “air pollutant” in the Philippine Clean Air Act or Republic Act No. 8749.

“Whether coal ash shall be considered as hazardous waste or industrial waste, either way coal ash shall be deemed as solid waste, which under Republic Act 9003, includes industrial wastes, among others, that require proper disposal in a sanitary landfill.”

The court enjoined the private power companies from “disposing, dumping, and transporting outside the premises of their respective coal-fired power plants, the coal ash or coal combustion residuals which are generated from the operations of their plants.

Petitioners filed the case last June 2010 seeking an environmental protection order (EPO) and writ of continuing mandamus to stop the coal-fired power plants from indiscriminate dumping of coal ash.

They also want to void the memorandum of agreement signed by Cebu province and Kepco-Salcon Power Plant to dispose of coal ash waste in the Balili Property.

Respondents in the case include, aside from power plant companies, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr. representing the Cebu Province, Toledo City Mayor Aurelio Espino and Naga City Mayor Valdemar Chiong.

Last Aug. 20, the court issued a three-day TEPO and followed up with an ocular inspection in Nov. 17, wherein the judge and both parties visited the sites in Naga and Toledo.

The Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 took samples of the coal ash waste there and sent them to Manila for toxicity tests.

Judge Yap, who led the inspection, took photographs and notes of the four barangays in Toldeo and the coal ash landfill of CEDC.

In the order, Yap cited the black dust on every step of the landfill site of CEDC in Lindahan, a mountain barangay of Toledo, which they visited Nov. 30.

“The group had to cover their eyes and nose to avoid irritation,” the order noted.

Other dump sites of the coal ash wastes were near a rice paddy, a public school, and a stream.

The order noted the “apparent manner to cover the coal ash underneath with fresh gravel, in time for the ocular inspection.”

Their footsteps would sink in, indicating that the waste was freshly dumped, the court said.

It also noted coal ash waste that had hardened, indicating that it had been dumped there for some time.

Two barangays in Naga that contain the Balili Property and the two open coal ash ponds by the Salcon Power Corp. were visited.

One coal ash pond was almost filled up. Salcon engineers estimated the ponds would be filled up by 2012 but the court noted that it may occur earlier if Kepco-SPC, which is located on the opposite side of SPC, would still not have an ash pond.

In barangays Pangdan and and Tinaan where the Balili Property is located, the court noted “considerable quantities” of coal ash deposits along riverbanks and streams along the mangroves.

 

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