Environmentalists filed the first petition using the new rules of procedure for environmental cases in the province yesterday afternoon.

Citing violations of the right to a balanced and healthy ecology, a citizens' suit was filed yesterday by environmentalists and some residents of the cities of Naga and Toledo against power companies, government regulating agencies and local government officials.

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Lawyers Benjamin Cabrido Jr. and Dante Ramos filed a petition asking the court to issue an ex-parte environmental protection order on operators of coal-fired power plants to stop moving or transporting any amount of coal combustion residuals or coal ash outside the premises.

The petitioners are the Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc. (PEJC) represented by Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Central Visayas Farmers' Development Center represented by Estrella Catarata, Central Visayas Fishefolks Development Center represented by Vince Cinches and concerned citizens of the cities of Toledo and Naga.

The respondents are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Energy (DOE), DENR 7 Director Leonardo Sibbaluca, Environmental Management Bureau Director Alan Aranguez and DOE Visayas Director Antonio Labios.

Respondents

Also included as respondents are Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the Provincial Board, Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr., Toledo City Mayor Aurelio Espinosa and City of Naga Mayor Valdemar Chiong.

The owners and operators of coal-fired power plants in Toledo and Naga are included as respondents.

These are Toledo Power Corp. (TPC), Cebu Energy Development Corp. (CEDC) and/or Global Business Power Corp. and SPC Power Corp. (Salcon Power Corp.) and Kepco-SPC joint venture company and Jane and John Does.

Garcia said she wishes to see a copy of the complaint and if it is about preventing the transport of coal ash from the plant to the disposal site, she thinks it is for the DENR to say if such transport would damage the environment.

"We are already experiencing these power outages precisely because our growth has outpaced the existing power capacity," she said.

"We need additional power. If we are to sabotage these two coal-fired plants by insisting that ash be dumped within the plant itself until all its equipment and machinery will be covered in ash then we will also be covered in total darkness," she added.

She warned against the loss of investors due to power supply problems.

"Wan-ay investors muari kay wan-a ma’y available power ug ang ekonomiya sa Cebu mukanaug na ug maayo, sila'y manubag? (Will they answer for it?)" the governor added.

Clean energy

But Cabrido, in a press conference, said, "Why exchange electricity with our environment and health? We have to shift to clean energy, that's the way to go."

Sanchez said he does not know anything about the transport of coal ash and said environmental lawyers should know his job is legislation. He said Garcia, as chief executive officer, should address the matter.

Chiong, for his part, welcomed the move of environmental lawyers because it will compel power plants to closely monitor and adopt proper disposal of coal ash.

“It’s their main responsibility to dispose of the coal ash properly. They should take care of it,” he added.

Chiong, however, said it is still premature to comment about the disposal of coal ash of the City of Naga-based Kepco since it is not operating yet.

The coal-fired power plant in Barangay Colon is expected to fully operate next year, generating 200-megawatt additional electricity in Cebu.

Also, SPC is not transporting coal outside because it has its own dumping site within its compound, Chiong said.

Aside from seeking a stop to hauling of coal ash, the petitioners also asked that the respondents be declared violators of their "right to health and to healthful ecology in rhythm and harmony of nature and of the environmental laws" for improper disposal of coal ash.

The environmentalists underscored that ash generated by coal-fired power plants are toxic and hazardous.

"What we are asking is they (respondents) be responsible enough to dispose coal ash properly," said Cabrido during a press conference before they filed the case in Mandaue City.

They requested the court to issue a temporary environment protection order that is valid for 72 hours that will prevent the respondents from moving coal ash outside of their plants.

Lately, they learned that coal ash has reached Mandaue City.

PEJC’s Ramos and her husband, Dante, together with Cabrido, conducted an environmental surveillance in various sites in Toledo City last June 13.

The lawyers said the power plants violated the Clean Air Act for fuel-burning plants with air pollutants exceeding the maximum permissible limits on particulates.

They also alleged that coal ash was illegally and improperly dumped in barangays Ilihan, Dumlog, Luray and Kanlumampay.

They noted that the seawaters in the areas within the coal-fired power plants were heavily polluted and silted.

CEDC and TPC are awaiting for a copy of the petition.

CEDC Corporate Communications officer Mae Catherine Melchor reiterated the DENR declared CEDC and TPC’s coal ash as solid industrial waste so it is not toxic and non-hazardous.

On the other hand, Melchor said that TPC’s coal ash is being contained within its 10-hectare premises.

Melchor added CEDC and TPC also have a coal ash landfill project with a private entity. DENR has issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project.

In Mandaue City, Mayor Jonas Cortes ordered City Health Officer Edna Seno to check the condition of the residents in Sitio Sibuyas, Barangay Paknaan and recommend to the City what needs to be done. (With GC/EOB/RSA/OCP)