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SRPI reaction to professor's commentary on coal plant


This is in reference to Professor Clem Bascar’s commentary:“Coal Fired Power Plant: An Industrial Monster” Zamboanga Today 6 October 2011.

In his article, Prof. Bascar expresses concern about what he sees as the possible harmful effects of the prospective operation of the 100 Mega Watt San Ramon power plant. We at San Ramon Power, Inc. (SRPI) admire and share Prof. Bascar’s concern for the well-being of the people of Zamboanga and his commitment to protecting our environment. It is because of this shared commitment that we now convey our perspective on some of the good professor’s assertions.

Professor Bascar takes the City Council to task for a resolution was passed expressing “no objections” to the San Ramon Power Plant.

We cannot presume to speak for the City Council or the Mayor but on our part, we would like to inform Professor Bascar that the Zamboanga City Government subjected San Ramon Power’s proposal to the appropriate scrutiny and intense examination expected from any representative body that has the best interests of its constituents at heart.  A resolution from the City Council in itself does not mean that construction of the plant can commence.

The Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-EMB) will have to issue an environmental compliance certificate (ECC), and other pertinent permits will have to be obtained by San Ramon Power, before any construction-related activity can begin.

The DENR-EMB and an independent panel of experts are currently in the process of concluding an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the San Ramon project and various groups and individual stakeholders have been invited to participate in this process.    Two well-attended public scoping session on the project were held last July 21 and September 30  with thousands of participants from all the affected communities as well as representatives from the academe, civil society, media, and government. 

It is a sad fact that many people are still unaware of the great strides made in the advancement of coal technology in the last century. Thus when people talk about dangerous fumes from coal plants they are actually referring to coal technology that was prevalent during the industrial revolution in the mid-eighteenth century all the way up to the latter part of the twentieth century.There are still a few manufacturing facilities that continue to utilize this antiquated technology to this day, and we cannot blame Professor Bascar for thinking that all coal fired facilities will adopt the same archaic scheme. We at San Ramon Power will most certainly not.

Allow us therefore to try to answer some of the points raised by Professor Bascar:
l. Emissions of Air Pollutants from Coal-Fired Plants
“Coal combustion releases nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM), mercury and dozens of substances known to be hazardous to human health.”

It is true that coal combustion releases certain byproducts in its emissions and these include nitrogen oxide, sulfuric dioxide mercury and other substances. Motor vehicles, cigarettes, and burning grass also release byproducts with their emissions. These byproducts become harmful only when they exceed certain levels. The Clean Air Act of the Philippines has clearly defined what the safe levels are for each of these chemical derivatives. The technology employed by the San Ramon Plant will reduce the volume of these emissions to levels well within those defined as safe by the Clean Air Act.
We can clearly see that the San Ramon Power Plant’s projected emissions are well within the safe levels provided for by the Clean Air Act. We hope that this will sufficiently answer Professor Bascar’s concerns unless the good professor feels that the Clean Air Act is deficient in which case it would be a great disservice to the individuals and environmental groups that fought long and hard for passage of this landmark law.

II. Health Effects of Coal-Fired Power Plants and Coal-Fired Power Plants can be Significant Contributors to Deposition of Mercury on Soil and Water
Professor Bascar cites the following:
“A November 2009 report on the effects of coal by Physicians for Social Responsibility, found coal combustion affects not only the human respiratory system, but also the cardiovascular and nervous systems.”
“A 2011 report of the American Lung Association found that coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollution in the United States than any other industrial pollution sources.”

“A report of the Clean Air Task Force in the United States estimated that soot pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to 24,000 premature deaths, 38,000 fatal heart attacks, and tens of thousands of hospital visits and asthma attacks each year.”

“Public health risks associated with exposure to mercury in food and metals in airborne fine particulate matter are among the most adverse health and environmental impacts associated with emissions of hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.” (no source cited)
“A study in eastern Ohio reported that coal combustion accounted for 70% of the mercury present in rainfall.” (Keeler, et al., 2006)
“In the same area, 42% of the mercury sample of rain collected in the summer was attributed to emissions from coal-fired power plants located less than a mile away.” (White, et al., 2009)
“Mercury that deposits to the earth’s surface from air can make its way into waterways where it is converted by microorganisms into methyl mercury, a highly toxic mercury.” (Ganjean, 2010).

We cannot answer for the type of coal burning technology employed in the areas involved in the studies he cited. As we stated before, there are still some facilities that operate using antiquated coal technology.  We can only state that the coal combustion technology to be employed in all our coal plants will not release chemical emissions at levels high enough to be considered by the Clean Air Act as harmful to the environment.

To answer the good professor’s concern about “…the generations after us suffer the impacts of present official acts.” We would like to point out that there are currently coal power plants in the country that have been running for as long as 15 years where the surrounding environment continues to thrive with plant and animal life and where there have been no adverse effects to the health of the people in the surrounding communities directly attributable to plant operations. 

We cannot end our rejoinder without addressing Professor Bascar’s insinuation that the people in the San Ramon infomercial were paid for their testimonials. We believe that this is unfair to the good people who took the time from their busy schedules to air their concerns about power security-without any monetary consideration.None of the people seen in our infomercials were paid for their appearance. Professor Bascar should know that despite their possible differing views on the San Ramon Plant, these people are concerned citizens of Zamboanga just like him.

We would like to once again assure Professor Bascar and all concerned citizens that San Ramon Power, Inc. and the Alcantara Group are committed to providing the people of Zamboanga with safe, reliable, and affordable energy. We at San Ramon Power will be more than happy to meet with Professor Bascar and other concerned individuals to address the other issues raised in his commentary.

By Gregorio S. Gonzales Jr., Project Manager,San Ramon Power, Inc.

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