Senior Citizens Party-list Rep. Milagros Aquino-Magsaysay on Monday asked the House Committee on Energy to look into strengthening Republic Act 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 by lessening or eradicating the country’s dependence on coal power.
“Other than its irreversible impacts to our global climate, the use of coal for energy proves largely damaging to our environment. Its production cycle alone—from its mining to its transportation—leaves an indelible mark to its surroundings. Add to that the bill on the environment caused by its utilization cycle—from its burning to its waste disposal—and you get an all throughout destructive force that proves burdensome not only for our generation but those that will succeed us,” said Aquino-Magsaysay in a privilege speech.
The congresswoman, citing studies, warned that coal-fired power plants produce more than 100 million tons of coal ash every year of which more than half of the dirty waste ends up in ponds, lakes, landfills, and other sites. Over time, the ash can contaminate our waterways, drinking water supplies, irrigation channels, and ultimately, our farmlands and fishing grounds, she said.
“The Carisquis – Darigayos area harvests shellfish, prawns, crabs, octopus and seaweeds from the intertidal zone for local consumption, all of which species are known to take-up, retain and concentrate toxic elements discharged from power plants. The long term effects of habitual consumption of those toxins can be serious, especially for children and the elderly,” Aquino-Magsaysay added.
Aquino-Magsaysay reminded that in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the Philippines only have a period of 12 years to limit its increase of global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or face irreversible changes in our climate and geographic conditions.
“Anything in excess would cause Artic caps to melt and sea waters to rise, increase the prevalence of drought, harsher conditions for tropical storms, and graver incidences of flooding. And in the global climate risk index, our country, the Philippines rank 5th among those who are most susceptible to climate change,” she said.
Aquino-Magsaysay said burning coal impacts the general health.
“When coal is burned it releases a number of airborne toxins and pollutants called particulate matter. These particulate matters include carbon, mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and various other heavy metals. These particulate matters, when airborne, may reach our body through the simple act of breathing, and the results are catastrophic. Inhaling them can result to respiratory ailments with long-term or chronic health effects. Once in the body, coal particulate matter can cause and worsen asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, neurological disorders, birth defects, and premature death. Faced with this, it is the children and the elderly—having more vulnerable immune systems—that are made most at risk by coal pollution,” she said.
She added, “The World Health Organization has identified coal as the highest source of air pollution, and an alarming 9 out of 10 people are exposed to it globally. In a study conducted by Greenpeace in collaboration with Harvard University on communities where coal-fired plants in the Philippines are present, they have concluded that around 2,410 premature deaths can be attributed to the coal power plant operation in the Visayas, including the Iloilo and Cebu Coal-Fired Power Plants.”
The lawmaker also warned that the 670-megawatt coal-fired power plant being built in Luna, La Union can send airborne particulate matters and generally affect the quality of air to as far as 50 kilometers, putting the urbanized cities of San Fernando in the south, and Candon in Ilocos Sur at the north, in serious risk. It can also affect the quality of health of the booming surfing haven of San Juan, La Union, which currently attracts roughly half a million visitors annually.
“As a staunch member of the House Committee on Health, I am most concerned about how a new coal-fired power plant development can further increase the burden of cost to our national healthcare. We live in a country where lung cancer claims the lives of 10,000 Filipinos annually, and where respiratory infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis comprise the top three health-related morbidity causes. Speaking on behalf of our senior citizen representation, if we can’t see these statistics lessen, we vehemently refuse to see these numbers increase,” she said.
“While income generated from coal-fired power plants can fatten the coffers of our State to mitigate their health impacts on our society, there is no denying that they are the chief causes of diseases borne out of poor air quality. And, I’m certain that most of you will agree with the age-old saying that prevention will always be better—and more affordable—than cure,” the legislator added.