Coal, The Cause Of Silent Death

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Andrea, a young child is gasping for breath, she has to go to a nearby clinic to get relief from the pain as her lungs seize up and she feels she is suffocating. She cries, begging her mother for medicine to stop the pain in her chest and back but there is no quick or easy cure for this cruel condition of chronic asthma. Thousands of Filipino children and adults near the dirty coal burning power plants are suffering. The plants are supposed to give energy for a better economy and healthier happier and dignified life, but they don’t.

 

Coal plants cause not only health problems but huge losses to the economy in collateral external damage. Now private companies have started to build another coal fired plant on the beautiful scenic Subic Bay, despite widespread protest and the condemnation of provincial and city councils. The people are ignored; the rich control the public agenda it seems.

Meralco, controlled by the Lopez family in partnership with the Aboitiz family with a Taiwanese investor are behind this new coal plant that threatens life and the tourist industry. The government must act to protect the greater good and promote renewable energy.

Yet the nine coal plants around the Philippines, five of them in Central Luzon are belching toxic ash and fumes. The deadly chemicals threaten the health of people and animals. The most dangerous of all is the cancer causing mercury. It is a neurotoxin that can and does cause brain damage when it enters the food chain like fish and damages the people who eat them, especially children, affecting brain development. Yet big business and government continue to build these deadly polluting electricity generating facilities.

Mercury causes: growing fetuses to be malformed, mental disorders, lung problems and damages the nervous and muscular systems. A typical power plant burning coal can produce as much as 25 pounds of mercury a year. Enough to contaminate huge areas causing life long health damage.

There are nine coal fired electric generating power plants in the Philippines. Five in Central Luzon, two on Cebu Island at Toledo, and Naga, one in Misamis Oriental and one in Quezon operated by Meralco all others are operated by the National Power Corporation (NPC) a semi-state body. The industry earns millions in revenue by charging huge cost of electricity, the second most expensive in Asia. Yet the NPC is plagued by allegations of corruption, misapplication of funds waste and abuse, charges they deny.

Advocates of coal plants falsely claim that coal burning power plants are clean and safe. They are not! They are the dirtiest, most polluting and most dangerous form of electricity generation in the world. They are responsible for most of the CO2 in the atmosphere and the catastrophic global warming climatic changes that are causing untold harm and hurt to millions of people and the global ecosystem itself. Estimates for every 1 degree in temperature rise, crop yields will drop 10 percent. Only a Nuclear plant out of control is worse. It’s time to bring out the truth.

The external costs or the damage they cause to health, agriculture and the ecosystem is estimated by Greenpeace in 2003 alone the coal plants in the Philippines accounted for 28 percent of power generation and causes external losses to the nation from a staggering 19.3 billion pesos (US $ 459 million) to a whopping high of 67 billion pesos (US$ 1.59 Billion) in external damage.

The coal industry argues that coal is the lowest cost of electricity generation but in fact overall this is not so. Geothermal and natural gas is one of the most safe and natural forms of electricity generation, easily available in the Philippines with its volcanic environment but for some reason is not encouraged by government and hampered by regulations and high taxes. The same goes for natural gas. The new administration of President Aquino is now challenged to right this wrong. There is some corrupt power play going on in the industry.

Allegedly the foreign coal suppliers and local partners are blocking the development of the alternative natural renewable sources of energy like geothermal, small non damaging hydro plants, solar and wind. These are the ideal and best future for the Philippines as they have indigenous renewable resources abundant sunlight, wind and geothermal available.

For the sake of the children, the whole nation, the environment and to reduce global warming we have to stop this madness of coal burning and turn to renewable power generation.

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