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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

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 Partners in the Philippines are celebrating an exciting interim victory in their case fighting the dumping of coal ash.

Judge Marilyn Ligura-Yap of the Mandaue City Regional Trial Court (RTC) invoked a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) for the duration of the current court case. The March 16 order requires the Toledo Power Corp., Cebu Energy Development Corp. and/or Global Business Power Corp. to dispose of their coal ash only in the landfill in Landahan, Toledo City. The order also allows the Korean Power Corp.-Salcon Power Corp. (Kepco-SPC) to dispose of their coal ash using only the ash ponds on the plant’s own premises in Barangay Colon, Naga City.

Ash lagoon, West Pans, UK, where coal ash is stored prior to being carried away for use in other industries. PHOTO: Richard Webb

The case in question is a lawsuit that was filed in June 2010 by Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc., Central Visayas Farmers Development Center, Central Visayas Farmers Development Center, Central Visayas Fisherfolks Development Center, and concerned residents of Toledo City and Naga City. The case began shortly after the discovery that coal ash, known to be toxic, was being dumped by the truckload in empty fields, private lots, and neighborhoods in south Cebu. No one claimed responsibility.

Gloria (Golly) Estenzo Ramos is an ELAW Partner and co-founder of Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc. Golly called the order a “strong signal” for coal power plants operators, local government units and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to comply with the requirements of the law. She was quoted in the Sun Star of Cebu:

“No community or neighborhood deserves to be made a dumping ground of wastes, more so coal ash which contains mercury, cadmium and arsenic like the samples that were tested,” she said.

In August 2010, the court issued a three-day Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO). In November 2010, the judge and members of both parties visited the dumping sites in Naga and Toledo. Samples of coal ash were taken and tested for toxicity. Photographs and extensive notes were collected.

Judge Yap said she was practicing the “precautionary principle.”

“The disposal of coal ash in the Balili Property will endanger the growth and sustenance of the mangrove trees that thrive along the coastline in and serve as natural buffer from severe changes of weather conditions such as storms and heavy monsoon rains.”

The Balili beach property is one of the sites being contested by petitioners. Governor Garcia has been inquiring about dumping coal ash on this property. Environmental lawyers warn, that should she defy court order, they will take “appropriate actions.”

Last Friday, Governor Garcia met with officials and representatives from the Department of Environment, Energy Regulatory Commission and Transmission Corp. regarding preliminary talks of building additional coal-fired power plants in the region. Governor Garcia also said she met with representatives from Korea Southern Power Co., Ltd. (Kospo).

This temporary order is being celebrated as a huge victory among environmentalists and community members of Cebu. Congratulations to those involved and good luck with the rest of the case. It is clear that the people must remain vigilant – there is still plenty of work to be done.

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager

World Water Day was established at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. It is a day to focus international attention on the factors contributing the world’s safe drinking water and sanitation crisis.

This year’s theme, Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge is highlighting the staggering increase in urbanization among the worlds poorest population, and how lacking city infrastructure is not meeting the clean water needs of communities.

According to the United Nations:

“Today, one in two people on the planet live in a city. 93% of the urbanization occurs in poor or developing countries, and nearly 40% of the world’s urban expansion is growing slums. The central problem is therefore the management of urban water and waste. Piped water coverage is declining in many settings, and the poor people get the worst services, yet paying the highest water prices.”

According to the Coalition for World Water Day“one out of every eight people lacks safe drinking water and two out of every five people lack adequate sanitation.” We all know water is fundamental to life and that access to clean water is a basic human right. And while some contributing factors are certainly related to poor sanitation, we must remember that there are other reasons that people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water.

Gold mine tailings disposal

Over the years, ELAW has worked with partners around the world to perform water quality tests that provide communities with the information they need to seek justice and win access to clean water.

Last year, ELAW worked with partners in Panama to test water quality downstream from a large gold mine.  ELAW partners in Belize are fighting to protect the Macal River, a source of drinking water, from the effects of a large dam. With surface water quality analysis, ELAW partners in Guatemala, are helping community members understand the science behind community health problems associated with nearby mining activity. ELAW worked with partners in the Philippines in 2008 to close illegal connections to a storm drain that were allowing raw sewage into drinking water. As in other parts of the Amazon, multinational oil companies have been drilling for oil and dumping by-products into Peru’s Corrientes River since the 1970s. ELAW helped perform the first independent water quality analysis, and in 2006, the largest offending oil company signed an agreement to stop dumping in the river and invest in cleanup.

Achuar march for clean water (PHOTO: FECONACO, Racimos de Ungurahui)

These are just a few examples of how numerous industries and multinationals are polluting and privatizing our earth’s freshwater supplies, and many times, in poor communities where regulations are weak and access to clean water is already at risk.

ELAW joins communities around the world calling for swift access to clean water for everyone. We will continue to support the work of local advocates who are fighting for the right to clean air and water for everyone.

Lauren Ice
Office Manager

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