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coal_0I am thrilled to share good news!

Last week, ELAW partners in the Philippines rejoiced when local government officials shelved plans to allow a company to dump coal ash on beachfront property in Naga City.

Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants.  Coal ash contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, and arsenic pose a significant threat to water resources.

ELAW partners Gloria Estenzo Ramos and Benjamin Cabrido with the Philippine Earth Justice Center called on ELAW’s science team in 2011 for help evaluating whether plans for the dump included adequate pollution mitigation technology to keep local residents safe.

ELAW’s science team reviewed the plans and found that the coal ash landfill would have been located in a floodplain and did not allow enough distance between the liner, a barrier intended to prevent groundwater contamination, and groundwater, violating the requirements of the Philippine Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

Using this information, ELAW partners successfully argued that the site is not a good place for a dump.  We were thrilled when Gloria wrote:

“ELAW has been a tremendous ally and partner and a major source of assistance and support to us in the struggle for environmental justice.”

Victories like this inspire us, and we hope they inspire you too!

Read more in the following news report:

Cebu Daily News Capitol, Kepco end coal waste dumping deal

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

We received great news from partners in South Africa: the densely populated, low income community of Atlantis won’t become home to Cape Town’s trash.

The City of Cape Town is running out of places to put trash, so it proposed building a massive landfill in nearby Atlantis. The Apartheid government established Atlantis in the 1970s as a racially segregated industrial center. Citizens of Atlantis have struggled socially and economically for decades. Concerned about the potential impact of the massive landfill, local residents called on ELAW partners at the Legal Resources Centre for help.

ELAW scientists reviewed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and sent information about the impact of landfills on people and the environment. Using this information, our local partners argued successfully that Atlantis is not a good place for a landfill. Instead, it will be sited in a less populated area.

Victories like this inspire us, and we hope they inspire you too!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Cigarettes, plastic bags, food containers, caps, plastic bottles, and more litter the beaches in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In a new report, ELAW’s science team found that inadequate management of waste at the local level poses a regional challenge.

“Waste management in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras is not just an aesthetic issue, it is a serious public health and environmental problem, says ELAW Staff Scientist Meche Lu. “Data from Belize indicate that approximately half of the waste there is not collected. Much of it is burned or disposed in waterways.”castaway (Print)

Elito Arceo, Chairman of Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) in Belize, concurs: “The amount of garbage that ends up on our beaches and reef is unbelievable. This is not what our tourists come here to see.”

ELAW’s science team recently published: “Ocean Waste in the Gulf of Honduras: Where it goes and what to do about it.” The report was a collaborative effort with organizations in the region working to turn the tide on ocean waste.

“This report shows that first of all we need to take responsibility for our own garbage,” says Arceo. “It’s time for all of us to change our habits. Education is the going to be the key.”

ELAW is helping local partners in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras hold community workshops to call attention to this problem and protect the Mesoamerican reef from further destruction.

Check out the full report here.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Imrich Vozar (left) of Via Iuris visits Short Mountain Landfill in Eugene in 2011

Imrich Vozar (left) of Via Iuris and Maria Rosario Mayi (right) of INSAPROMA visit Short Mountain Landfill in Eugene in 2011

We recently received great news from our Slovak partners at Via Iuris concerning a controversial landfill project in the town of Pezinok.  Community members and municipal officials oppose the project because it is located just about one-quarter mile from the center of their town. Furthermore, the landfill was not proposed for handling local solid waste, but to accept waste produced in other regions of Slovakia and from outside the country.  Pezinok has an excellent recycling program and capacity to handle its own solid waste. The community’s grassroots effort to block the landfill project has gained international attention and recognition.

The Court of Justice of the European Union issued a decision declaring that Slovak state officials improperly withheld key information from community members and municipal officials during the course of the licensing proceeding.  The licensing authority refused to release a copy of the land use decision (a critical document in the licensing proceeding) until after the project developer started construction.  The Court strongly affirmed the right of citizens to participate in environmental decisions early in the process when there are options available and effective public participation can occur. The Court also stated that the licensing authority’s refusal to make the decision public was not justified by protection of commercial or industrial information. The case will now return to the Slovak Supreme Court for further decisions on the fate of the landfill.   The project has been temporarily suspended since 2010, but the European Court’s decision provides some hope that the landfill will be cancelled permanently.

Slovak newspapers reported the optimistic response of Pezinok’s mayor: “The decision of the court fills us with hope that the years-long effort [to achieve] a healthy environment in the town will be successful[.]”   Advocates around Europe are lauding the decision, as well.

Congratulations to our friends at Via Iuris!

Liz Mitchell
Staff Attorney

I am pleased to share a recent victory from Uganda, a country I called home before joining ELAW in 1999.

After 10 years fighting the scourge of micro-thin plastic bags, ELAW partner Kenneth Kakuru and his team at Greenwatch are celebrating victory.

The High Court of Kampala ruled on Friday that plastic bags, commonly referred to as “kaveera,” violate the right of citizens to a clean and healthy environment.  The Court ordered that a bill be drafted “expeditiously” to regulate the use of all plastics less than 100 microns.

When I lived in Kampala, I worked at the Uganda Wildlife Society where I trained a local team to publish NatureWatch, an educational supplement inserted in Uganda’s daily newspaper, The New Vision.  This project was funded by the U.K.’s Darwin Initiative.

My team at NatureWatch toured a local kaveera factory.  We were amazed to see polythene spun into threads and quickly become thousands of kaveera.  Sadly, these inexpensively produced one-use micro thin bags tear easily and are quickly tossed, becoming an environmental menace for years and years.  They litter the landscape, clog roadside culverts, get stuck in trees, and kill cows that eat them.

That was 13 years ago.

I am pleased that ELAW has helped Greenwatch make progress tackling this menace.  Kenneth says:

“Most of the scientific information contained in the pleadings to substantiate the arguments was obtained from ELAW.  This is a major milestone in the environment landscape in Uganda considering the menace that polythene bags have caused over time.  Scientific Information from ELAW and judgments from other jurisdictions where ELAW partners operate have continuously been of great help to Greenwatch winning major court battles in Uganda.”

Kenneth and Greenwatch are an inspiration to ELAW partners around the world working to rid the environment of one-use plastic bags.  Congratulations Kenneth!

Maggie Keenan
ELAW Communications Director &
Fellows Program Coordinator

ELAW Fellow Rockson Akugre

Last weekend, ELAW joined fellow Eugene non-profit NextStep — a consumer electronics reuse and recycling organization — at the 7th Annual Good Earth Home, Garden, and Living Show.

NextStep had volunteers and staff on-hand to answer questions about the vast range of consumer electronics they accept for reuse or responsible recycling as well as the amazing array of refurbished computers, televisions, CD and DVD players, and other items they sell at their Eugene and Springfield ReUse stores.

ELAW works with NextStep’s Executive Director, Lorraine Kerwood, to teach vising ELAW Fellows about the recycling and reuse of “e-waste.” After visiting Next Step in March 2011, ELAW Fellow Rockson Akugre said: “In Ghana, we would throw broken computers away…this is very new to me and good to be exposed to.”

NextStep is part of a growing international awareness of the problem of e-waste.  Many coalitions have formed to combat the e-waste problem, including the Electronics Takeback Coalition (ETC) and Basel Action Network (BAN).  In 2010, proposed Federal legislation focused on prohibiting the export of “restricted electronic waste” from the U.S.  to developing nations.  ELAW’s staff and international partners are thrilled to collaborate with NextStep to further our impact on the global problem of e-waste!

Glenn Gillis
Information Technology Manager

In late 2009, our partners at Pro Public in Nepal won a tremendous victory: The Supreme Court ordered the government to clean up leaking containers of pesticides and send them back to the countries they came from. Some of the leaking containers were stored next to a schoolyard in Amlekhgunj, south of Kathmandu.  Every day, children had to cross a contaminated field to get to school. Many children suffered from skin rashes, vomiting, and fainting.

Now, Pro Public has won another victory and the pesticides are getting cleaned up. The Supreme Court ordered the government to clean up the pesticides within one year of the initial ruling, but the government dragged its heels.  When the government had done nothing nearly two years after the court handed down its ruling, our partners threatened to file a contempt case for failure to obey the court order. Finally, the government of Nepal arranged foreign assistance to help remove the pesticides. Over the next two months more than 75 tons of pesticides will be returned to Germany for safe disposal.

This victory will help protect children and strengthen the rule of law in Nepal.

Our partners at Pro Public remain committed to protecting citizens from pesticides and will continue working to enforce the court’s momentous 2009 ruling.

Congratulations to everyone at Pro Public!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

I’m hoping the answer to the question above is ‘yes’!

Earlier this month, we received an urgent message from Ron Gutierrez, our partner in the Philippines with the organization Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN).  Ron informed us about a municipality near Manila, called Obando, which had approved construction of a waste landfill in a low-lying coastal area that is extensively covered with mangroves. This  is a particularly poor choice of  location for a landfill; the month before, the entire area was inundated with flood waters.  The waste from Metro Manila would arrive to Obando on barges.

You can find out more about the proposed project and community efforts to stop it in this article from Dateline Philippines.

Ordinarily, Philippine law requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), with full opportunity for public comment, before the government approves a landfill.  However, the proponent of the Obando landfill, a company called EcoShield Development Corporation, only submitted an Initial Environmental Examination Report (IEE).  Nonetheless, the regional office of the Environmental Management Bureau approved the project, issuing an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project.   I urged Ron to send me the documents so that I could see whether they examined the loss of mangroves and the risk of flooding.

Amazingly, the documents Ron sent me made no mention of mangroves, and presented an incredulous plan to build embankments around the landfill to prevent future flooding.  Wanting to help Ron document the existence of mangroves, I took a close look at the location using Google Earth.

What I found was evidence of an extensive canopy of mangroves that would be cleared if the landfill were constructed:

Google Earth Image of the Proposed Obando Landfill Site

The yellow line indicates the boundaries for the proposed landfill. You can see a wide belt of mangroves adjoining Manila Bay on the bottom of the image.  The town of Obando is on the left, above the proposed landfill.

There is hope these mangroves will be protected!  Last year, the Supreme Court of the Philippines adopted new rules (Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases) that put environmental cases on a fast-track and, in urgent situations, allow citizens to bring a special kind of petition (called a Writ of Kalikasan) directly to the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

This is exactly what our partner in the Philippines did this past Monday (October 24th), filing a Writ of Kalikasan in the Supreme Court.

Along with his petition, Ron submitted a detailed statement I prepared showing why the proposed landfill violates numerous provisions of the Philippines Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. He also included the Google Earth image showing the mangroves that would be lost if the project goes forward.

Under the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, the Supreme Court can quickly grant a Temporary Environmental Protection Order halting activities that can harm the environment.  Ron has requested this relief, and we will soon know whether the bulldozers will be sent away while the Supreme Court hears the case and, hopefully, agrees that this is no place to dispose of Manila’s garbage.

Mark Chernaik
Staff Scientist

Last fall we shared the twists and turns of a David and Goliath lawsuit in Papua New Guinea to prevent a Chinese mining company (MCC) and its Australian partner (Highlands Pacific) from discharging millions of tons of toxic mining waste near community fishing grounds off the country’s northeastern coast.    After a long and complicated trial early this year, in which noted marine and environmental scientists described the devastating environmental impacts of the company’s plan to pump a slurry of mine waste into Basamuk Bay, the National Court announced that it would issue its decision on May 23.  Over 1,000 landowners are plaintiffs in the case.  Along with their lawyer, Tiffany Nonggorr, they spent several months anxiously awaiting the judge’s verdict.  Everyone’s patience was tested when the Court postponed judgment day — twice.  Finally, July 27 arrived.

With the significant time difference between the U.S. and PNG, I knew that news would be breaking just about the time I’d be going to sleep.  I had my laptop open on the bedside table and periodically checked for news while nervously reading an article (that I now can’t remember) in The New Yorker.  I could barely stand it.  Soon, I started seeing updates from Effrey Dademo, an ELAW partner and attorney with Act Now! PNG.

At first, the ruling sounded as though there would be a clear victory for the landowners.  Effrey continued to report intermittently for over two hours, as the 67-page opinion was read aloud.  The Court rejected the mining company’s assurances that the waste would be “benign” and agreed with the plaintiffs that the waste would not stay deep below the water’s surface, but would likely be brought towards the surface by upwelling.  Turning to the legal issues, Justice Cannings concluded that the toxic mine waste would cause a private and public nuisance.  He also declared that the government’s decision to approve the mine waste disposal plan:

“amounts to an abuse and depletion of Papua New Guinea’s natural resources and environment – not their conservation – for the collective benefit of the People of Papua New Guinea and for the benefit of future generations, to discharge into a near-pristine sea (a widely recognised hotspot of biodiversity), mine tailings at a rate of 5 million tonnes of solids and 58.9 million cubic metres of tailings liquor per year. It constitutes unwise use of our natural resources and environment, particularly in and on the seabed and in the sea. It amounts to a breach of our duty of trust for future generations for this to happen.”

And then, the devastating news came.  Justice Cannings refused to permanently stop the mine waste disposal in part because the company had spent a considerable amount of money to build the system.  The decision had many people scratching their heads in shock and dismay at the final outcome of the case. (You can hear a Radio Australia  interview with Tiffany Nonggorr immediately following the judgment here).

The landowners were not deterred.  They immediately asked Tiffany to file an appeal with the country’s Supreme Court, which she promptly did.  On Monday, the Supreme Court blocked MCC from discharging mine waste into the bay until it could hear the appeal later this month!

The determination of communities along the Rai coast to protect their coastal environment is inspiring.  During the trial, several landowners described the sea as a “garden” that their daily lives depend on.  Their fight has prompted Green party legislators in Australia to push for legislation that would prevent Australian mining companies from engaging in practices, like deep sea mine waste disposal, in foreign countries that are illegal at home.

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney

ELAW welcomes Imrich Vozár, who arrived this week from Slovakia for a 10-day ELAW Fellowship. Imrich is one of six staff lawyers working for VIA IURIS in one of two offices, in Banská Bystrica and Pezinok.

This is Imrich’s first visit to the U.S. He is staying at the ELAW House and enjoying new and interesting things – like spotting a raccoon on the Willamette River bike trail and the possibility of purchasing items, in bulk, at the nearby supermarket.

Imrich will have the chance to explore Oregon’s beauty spots – and grocery stores – and also spend many hours working to advance public participation, transparency in decision-making, and access to information back home.

For example, Imrich is working with colleagues at VIA IURIS to help citizens in Pezinok challenge a proposed landfill which, tragically, would be located just over 400 yards from the center of town.  Read more about this case here.

Imrich is also helping VIA IURIS prepare to participate in the fourth session of the Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention, to be held in Moldova later this month.  The Arhus Convention is a major international agreement that calls for access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters.

In October last year, VIA IURIS and other NGOs successfully petitioned the Aarhus Committee to find that Slovakia violated Article 6 of the Convention by not allowing sufficient public participation before construction of the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant.

During his ELAW Fellowship, Imrich will share his expertise, collaborate with ELAW partners around the world, and advance his organization’s work calling for an accountable judiciary, accountable public officials, and responsible citizens in Slovakia.

Welcome Imrich!

Glenn Gillis
Information Technology Manager

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