Power firm told to stop dumping coal-A A +A
Saturday, March 26, 2011
CEBU CITY -- Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia issued an Executive Order (EO) for the Korea Electric Company-Salcon Power (Kepco-SPC) to stop hauling or dumping coal, unless measures to contain coal dust are implemented.
She said the order remains in effect until she is convinced their protective measures are effective.
"That is why they will work over the weekend and on Monday morning, I will inspect it. I will inspect what they have installed and see if that will suffice," she said.
The governor signed the order on Friday, during the lunch break of the 11th Women's Congress held at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC). She said the order should send the proper signal to Kepco officials that they have to "do what must be done and what is right" to protect residents and the environment.
City of Naga Mayor Valdemar Chiong called the governor Friday morning to inform her that there was another delivery of coal.
That violated a commitment made last Thursday, when Kepco officials told the governor they will construct walls and install a net to secure the coal dust, before accepting any coal delivery.
The governor was also informed the next delivery will be in April.
More than an hour after she signed the order, officials of Kepco arrived at the CICC to explain their side to the governor. The governor raised her voice for part of the discussion, which lasted more than 25 minutes.
"I'm just a little peeved," she said later, when asked if she was angry with Kepco's officials. "But that is an understatement."
"Maybe there was some miscommunication on their part," she added.
The one-page order said while it is the policy of the province to provide continuous and adequate supply of power to its constituents, it should be done without sacrificing ecological concerns and the people's welfare.
Garcia said it has come to her attention that dust from trucks hauling coal to and from the plant of Kepco-SPC in Tina-an, Naga has bothered residents in the area. If the situation will not be properly and effectively addressed, it would endanger the health and safety of residents, she said.
She pointed out that Section 16 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code empowers the Provincial Government to implement measures for the general welfare of its constituents.
The order came out after an "unscheduled" delivery of raw coal arrived at the power company's compound in Barangay Colon, Naga on Thursday evening.
Meanwhile, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) tested the seawater near the plant and said it will review the company's compliance with government standards.
The power company, in a press statement, said it received the order and assured that remedial measures are being implemented and that the raw coal has not been unloaded.
"This cease and desist order is on their coal-handling operation. This has nothing to do with other (power-generating) operations," Mayor Chiong said.
He said there was a delivery that arrived Thursday night on a barge that contained about 40,000 tons to 50,000 tons of raw coal.
KSPC officials met with Governor Garcia and Mayor Chiong on Thursday and were told to stop coal deliveries.
"We agreed that they should put up mitigating measures first," said Chiong, who added that the company is not allowed to unload the coal from the barge.
The order will take effect until the power company is able to implement all short-term measures to curtail coal dust pollution.
Chiong and residents have complained that black dust particles were found on their rooftops, furniture and clotheslines. They blamed this on the delivery of raw coal to the plant last March 9.
Mayor Chiong met with the company while DENR personnel took air samples for testing of total particulates that include dust, pollen and fiber.
Results of the test, conducted five days after Naga residents complained about pollution, showed figures were within government standards.
The company has pledged to Naga and DENR officials that they will implement mechanisms to stop dust pollution, especially during raw coal delivery.
"Due to good weather conditions, the vessel for our next coal delivery unexpectedly arrived earlier (last Thursday evening, instead of next week's original expected arrival) but we have not commenced unloading the coal," KSPC said in a statement.
The workers, the company also said, are "installing scaffoldings in the coal tripper, an obvious indication that we cannot unload coal at this time because the unloading system is not working."
"We also wish to clarify that we are not, at present, undertaking any delivery of coal through truck hauling. Our coal is delivered by barges or vessels and is unloaded through a conveyor belt into the coal yard," they added.
There are already mitigating measures that have been installed at the compound, the company said.
These are the dust suppression system, which sprinkles water on raw coal every two hours at six points, including the shed and open stockyard. The chute tripper height has been reduced.
As part of the preparations to install a permanent cover for the coal stockyard, the company has begun installing tarpaulins and nets around the shed to contain the dust.
With these mitigating measures, the company said "the concerns of the nearby residents about coal dust being blown inland during coal unloading, will now be sufficiently addressed."
"We reiterate that KSPC is doing its best to protect the environment and the lives of the residents of its host communities, as the improvement of their lives is our primordial concern, which we hope to achieve by providing quality and reliable energy to the Visayas grid," they concluded.
Mayor Chiong is amenable to the implementation of short-term mitigating measures, considering the "unscheduled" delivery of raw coal.
"They can install the short-term measures first. They can install the long-term measures later because these would take time. They said with the long-term measures, they would have to come up with an engineering design," said Chiong.
Not everyone was convinced.
"It's too little, too late," said environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido on the order.
Cabrido is the legal counsel of petitioners who sought the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo) on the dumping and disposal of coal combustion waste or coal ash.
The Tepo was issued last August 2010 and extended by Judge Marilyn Lagura-Yap of the Mandaue Regional Trial Court branch 28 last March 15, to take effect for the duration of the trial.
Cabrido suggested that Mayor Chiong file a manifestation in court and seek a Tepo for raw coal.
"This is a violation of the Clean Air Act," said Cabrido.
In a separate interview, EMB Regional Director Alan Arranguez said a team went to Naga Friday morning to get the seawater temperature near the plant. He said they would not conduct chlorine tests because this substance easily evaporates.
He noted, though, that chlorine has a negative effect on the environment as it reacts to oxygen and further depletes the ozone layer.
Arranguez said the power company does have a cooling tower.
After the reports are submitted, Arranguez said the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of KSPC would have to be reviewed.
"The ECC contains the baseline data in the area before the construction of the project. We will see if there are changes along the coastline," he said.
"There are also plans to convene the multi-partite monitoring team," he added.
The monitoring team, which is tasked to monitor the operations of the power plants, is composed of stakeholders, non-government organizations, representatives of the local government unit and the DENR.
The KSPC, in an earlier statement, said the seawater temperature is within acceptable levels and that chlorine used to declog the cooling system is "at a very low concentration, which is within the tolerable limits of marine life." (Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 26, 2011.