Environment advocates slam Villar on coal remarks

ENVIRONMENT advocates, including a bishop, slammed reelectionist senator Cynthia Villar for her recent remarks on the development of a coal-fired power plant in Negros Occidental.

The senator, in a press conference in Victorias City earlier this week, said coal is attractive especially for poor countries like the Philippines because it is cheaper.

Villar, who chairs the senate committee on environment, said there is available technology on coal, it is allowed even in the United States.

“Maybe let us study these new technologies making coal as clean energy,” she said, adding that “if we can do it, the issue on coal will be less controversial.”

Environment groups and advocates, however, are not amenable to such pronouncement.

Romana de los Reyes, of Coal-Free Negros, in a statement to SunStar Bacolod, said maybe Villar is referring to the claim of San Miguel Corporation Global Power Corp. that the Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) coal plant it is proposing in San Carlos City is a clean coal technology.

“This claim is a lie,” she said.

According to the anti-coal group, the CFB technology addresses the mitigation of only two emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

The CFB does not control many other emissions from a coal plant, including particulate matters and acid aerosols, which cause grave respiratory ailments, it said.

De los Reyes said the technology does not also address problems with the coal dust and ash causing serious skin allergies and respiratory difficulties.

Also, the CFB also does not address the increased temperature of water that the coal plant dumps into the nearby water body, resulting in much decreased fish catch in near shore waters, she said.

“It does not control the climate-warming carbon dioxide which is released when coal is burned,” de los Reyes said, adding that “burning more coal will significantly contribute to the climate crisis we are facing now.”

Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, a staunch supporter of a coal-free Negros, said Villar's declaration revealed her gross ignorance and incompetence as chairperson of the committee and her lack of foresight, vision and care for the environment.

Alminaza said for the Senator to say that coal-fired plants are very attractive to poor countries, like the Philippines, because they produce cheaper power shows how out of touch she is.

“Of all people, I did not expect to hear it from no less than Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the committee on environment and supposed to be the leading among senatoriables in the recent survey,” he lamented.

Alminaza, along with three other bishops in Negros Island, earlier issued a collegial pastoral statement opposing coal.

The diocese and various environment groups including youth organizations in the province have organized activities like “no to coal” protests to oppose the reported plan to develop a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in San Carlos City.

“Look at Iloilo, it has at least three to four coal fired power plants and yet it has the most expensive power rate in the country if not in Asia,” the bishop said.

Gerry Arances, executive director for the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, said coal being the cheaper energy source for “poor countries” according to Villar is a blatant lie.

“Not only is renewable energy from solar and wind now being touted as the cheapest source of energy globally, coal is also being abandoned internationally due to its financial risk and environmental cost,” he added.

For Jun Mojica, also of Coal-Free Negros, said the timing of the statement is not only unfortunate, it is also damaging for the senator.

“Instead of speaking for the interests and the environment of the people of Negros, she has positioned herself against it by supporting the proposed coal-fired power plant,” Mojica also said.

Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. already issued Executive Order (EO) No. 19-08 Series of 2019, an order declaring the province as a source of clean and renewable energy.

Prior to issuance of the EO on March 6, as early as October last year, Marañon proposed to the Provincial Board (PB) an ordinance declaring the entire Negros Occidental coal-free, clean energy, and environment-friendly province.

In the said EO, the governor reiterated his recommendation to the PB to issue a Renewable Energy Ordinance, further stating an opposition to the setting up of a coal-fired power plant anywhere within the province.

Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, for his part, earlier said the PB’s committees on energy and environment are still doing series of hearings and consultations with the stakeholders.

Lacson said they should be careful in passing judgment to the governor's request and people should consider its long term implication.


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