No vetting of DENR awardees

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This is in reaction to the news item on the 10 multinational companies cited by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for their “green” policies (Inquirer, 11/29/12).

We take issue with the DENR’s careless awarding of its “Official Seal of Approval.” There being no complaint against those companies does not mean they adhere to environmentally sound practices, especially not in the Philippines where complaining is a privilege exercised mostly by the articulate and powerful and the desperate.

At the least, we expect the DENR, exercising its governmental powers and moral authority on behalf of the public, to investigate the practices of those companies, and not to hold them up as models solely on the basis of “outstanding green policies.”

Take Holcim Philippines. It has been producing cement using refuse-derived fuel (RDF) in its Bulacan and Misamis Oriental plants, which it proudly calls “alternative fuel.” But RDF is no more than a compacted combination of waste plastic and paper, used tires, and agricultural and unspecified industrial wastes burnt to generate cheaper energy.

At the least, Holcim’s burning of RDF should have been a red flag to the DENR. The 1999 Clean Air Act prohibits burning because burning releases hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens, into the air we breathe.

At the least, the DENR should be able to tell us the magnitude and types of greenhouse gas emissions from Holcim’s cement production, the chemical byproducts of RDF use, and whether Holcim’s cement production meets emission and safety standards. At the least, DENR should investigate the health and environmental impact of Holcim’s emissions and chemical byproducts. Needless to say, the DENR owes the public this kind of information with or without its awards, but especially so when it goes about stamping its seal of approval on the “self-monitoring and self-regulation” of multinational companies. Without this kind of information vital to public interest, it should be the DENR’s impulse and duty to suspect “self-monitoring and self-regulation.”

It is also the DENR’s duty to track the multinational companies’ compliance with health and environmental standards  and to be wary when protests hound their operations in other parts of the world. It is on public record, for example, that Holcim’s Yocsina plant in Argentina, which uses RDF, was the object of protests from surrounding communities for illegal dioxin (one of the worst carcinogens) emission. The protest was supported by the 2009 dioxin concentration study of Dr. Raul A. Montenegro, a biology professor at the University of Cordoba in Argentina, and other researchers and institutions (Gonzalo Bermudez, et al., 2010) that found high concentrations of toxic heavy metals in the soil surrounding Holcim’s Yocsina plant.

We now call on the DENR to release the environmental compliance records of all the companies that it foists on the Filipino public as models.

—SHALIMAR VITAN

coordinator for Asia Pacific,

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives,

Quezon City, Philippines

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