Environmental groups welcome CCC review of coal

Advocates for the environment wlecomed the Climate Change Commission resolution signed by outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, reviewing policies pertaining to new and existing coal-fired power plants in the country in light of the Philippines’ international commitment to shift to a low carbon economy.

Members of the Green Thumb Coalition, a network of civil society and grassroots organizations pushing for the incoming administration to address several issues pertaining to the environment, viewed the pronouncement as a positive step towards moving away from dirty and harmful energy and towards a path of sustainable, renewable energy for all.

Gerry Arances, Convenor of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), noted that considering existing policies like the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 and even the highly-contested Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), the streamlining of policies on fossil fuel energy sources – particularly coal – has been long overdue.

“For years under the Aquino administration, there has been conflict between the government’s pronouncements promoting the utilization of renewable energy resources and its actual policy of opening the country up to the construction of new coal-fired power plant projects,” said Arances.

According to Arances, with 27 new coal-fired power plants adding to the 19 existing facilities in the country, the Philippine’s power mix has grown even more dependent on coal at the expense of renewable energy in the past few years.

“With the growing international rejection of coal from European governments to US state governments, technology utilizing this energy source has been proven to be obsolete,” Arances stated. “As a recent Oxford study concluded, these facilities if approved will become stranded assets, binding our country to a phased-out energy resource for the next 50 years while the rest of the world is shifting to renewables,” he added.

Grassroots communities support development
Communities threatened by the construction of coal-fired power plants were also welcoming of the CCC pronouncement aimed at “harmonizing” policies on coal plants with policies on environmental protection and international obligations to combat climate change. 

“Even with the past election season grabbing most of the public’s attention, the people of Batangas City have aggressively campaigned against the construction of a 600MW coal plant in our hometown,” said Batangas City Councilor Kristine Balmes.

Balmes, the same party as that of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, PDP-Laban, enjoined her presidential bet to follow through with his promise of abandoning coal as an energy source.

“Our future president has been very vocal about shifting to renewable energy sources and eventually phasing out coal,” said Balmes. “We urge him to fast track this shift as a response to our needs as a community, specifically our health, environment, security and livelihood.”

Activist groups urge DOE and DENR to reflect policy shift; Duterte camp agrees with coal phase-out
“While not explicitly stated, the six-month comprehensive review of policies and permit processes entail an immediate moratorium on all coal operations,” said Sanlakas Secretary-General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa.

“We therefore demand that the Department of Energy and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to immediately issue administrative orders reflective of the CCC resolution,” Pedrosa added.

Pedrosa, who also heads the Energy Working Group of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), said that an immediate suspension of all existing coal-fired power plants and coal mining operations, as well as the suspension of processing for proposed coal plants, are necessary if policies on coal will be subject to review based on their environmental and climate impact. “We must uphold the precautionary principle, which suggests that activities that could possibly cause damages to the welfare of people must be treated as harmful until proven otherwise,” stated Pedrosa.

Atty. Pedrosa, also stressed that the moratorium on all coal-related activities must carry over to the new administration, regardless of who sits in the Duterte cabinet. Pedrosa recalled the response issued by the Duterte camp to the Green Thumb Coaliton presidential survey, where the then-presidentiable stated: “The Duterte Administration agrees with the eventual phase out of coal power plants and other
plants that use harmful fuels and steer the country for more investments in RE.”