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Cimatu vows intensive enforcement of Clean Air Act

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has assured the public that the Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) will continue to strive to improve air quality amid renewed concerns about the impacts of coal-fired power plants on the environment and public health.

The environment chief made the assurance after environmental advocates led by the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the DENR and the Department of Energy to strictly regulate the operations of coal-fired power plants in the country.

Cimatu, who was appointed environment secretary in May, said that part of the DENR's mandate is to make sure that environmental laws, including Republic Act No. 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, are fully implemented.

"Intensive enforcement will continue to be a tool used by the DENR to carry out its mandate from the people to improve the quality of air we breathe," Cimatu said.

Cimatu said the DENR welcomes the petition filed by the PMCJ and its affiliates.

Without touching on the merits of the case, Cimatu said the DENR -- through its Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) -- regularly reviews its policies designed to reduce air pollution and protect human health and the environment.

He noted that just last year, a new National Ambient Air Quality Guideline Value (NAAQGV) for particulate matter (PM) 2.5 or particle pollution less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter took effect.

"Pursuant to DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2013-13, the NAAQGV for PM2.5 is set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/Ncm) for an average of 24 hours or short term, and 25 μg/Ncm for an average of one year or long term, starting from January 2016," Cimatu said.

PM2.5 is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health problems.

Cimatu said the establishment of NAAQGV is one of the safeguards put in place pursuant to the country's clean air law in to protect the public against air pollution, including those coming from coal-fired power plants.

“Coal-fired power plants are allowed, but we need to tell them the limit of their emissions. If they emit more than what we prescribe them, then we will close their operations. But if they do pass, they shall be allowed to operate because that is within the law,” Cimatu pointed out.

Another safeguard, Cimatu said, is the installation of continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS), as prescribed under different administrative orders issued in 2007.

At present, Cimatu said all 17 operating coal-fired power plants have their respective CEMS.

"One of the conditions under the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for power plants is to install CEMS. DAO 2017-14 requires the operation proponents to transmit data and images from its CEMS or CCTV to EMB online information database system to ensure the disclosure of the emission results,” Cimatu said.

He added: “Large power plants are required to install continuous ambient air monitoring within their vicinity. The EMB has also completed several installations of automatic continuous ambient air monitoring sites at different categories in general ambient and roadside ambient monitoring."