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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

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

Visiting the landfill construction zone

When our partners at the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental in Panama (CIAM, called “the Environmental Advocacy Center” in English) emailed to ask what size rubber boots I wear, I was thrilled. As a marine ecologist, rubber boots mean fieldwork! Tromping around in the mud investigating marine species–fishes, crabs, birds, mangroves, and other great stuff–I could hardly wait to explore Panama’s rich marine biodiversity with our CIAM colleagues.

But upon our arrival into Panama City, Felix Wing and Tania Arosemena, (CIAM Executive Director and Legal Coordinator, respectively) met my colleague (ELAW Executive Director, Bern Johnson) and me with some tough news: all of Panama Bay’s mangroves–those spectacular, valuable species that Panamanians are fortunate to have growing right in their city–had just lost their protected status per order of a court. The court cleared the way for tourist and commercial development that would destroy one of the greatest places for birds to gather in the world. We would still be going to the field but we weren’t going to see protected biodiversity or natural wonders. We were going to a massive mangrove destruction and landfill construction zone that CIAM is working to challenge.

Bulldozers remove mangroves

It was striking, walking through piles of trash with the bulldozers tearing down mangroves in the distance, and looking down to see crab claws and dead fish under our feet–evidence that only a short while ago a tidal creek, with mangroves stretching high into the sky, had flowed where we stood.

We’ll be writing more about what we learned from our CIAM colleagues and what we (and you!) can do about protecting Panama’s mangroves…and why mangroves are such important species for humans and nonhuman species, alike. Look for our Summer newsletter, coming out soon.

Heidi W. Weiskel
Staff Scientist

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

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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