A COALITION of environmental and community groups has petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down Executive Order (EO) 30, issued by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017, arguing that it is unconstitutional and will lead to the expansion of coal and other fossil fuel energy projects in the country. The environmental and social concerns are quite valid, and it is to the country's benefit that there are groups actively working to ensure that they are addressed. Assailing EO 30, however, is not the right way to accomplish that.
EO 30 was written at a time when fears for the Philippines' near-term and future energy supply were particularly acute. In an effort to accelerate development, and in line with the Duterte administration's focus on infrastructure expansion, EO 30 created the Energy Investment Coordinating Council (EICC), which was given the primary task to review energy projects and declare those it deemed suitable as Energy Projects of National Significance (EPNS).
An EPNS designation is intended to fast-track the approval process for an energy project that will contribute substantially to meeting the country's overall energy demand. It provides for a number of exemptions and modified rules to accomplish this, with the initial vetting of proposed projects by the EICC intended to be the safeguard against abuses or inappropriate planning.
The activity of the EICC has slowed considerably since the end of President Duterte's term, but as of December 2021 there were a total of 149 EPNS projects, of which 74 are fossil fuel generation projects, primarily coal and gas, with most of the remainder being renewable energy projects.
The groups which submitted the petition against EO 30 to the Supreme Court on January 23 include Quezon for Environment (Queen); Atimonan Power to the People, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED); Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ); and Sanlakas. In a press release announcing the filing, Gerry Arances, executive director of CEED and convenor of Power for People Coalition (P4P), said: “We were right to raise concern regarding the constitutionality of EO 30 when it was first announced. In addition to the constitutional issues, there are very real economic issues which will confront consumers if this policy is continued. EO 30 has only reinforced the country's reliance on fossil fuels like coal. It is high time that the Supreme Court sees EO 30 for what it is: a blessing for the fossil fuel industry.”
Some of the EPNS projects that are singled out by the coalition of green groups include the first one given EPNS status, the 1,200-megawatt (MW) coal-fired Atimonan One Energy power plant located in Quezon province; the 15 MW Palawan CFB coal-fired power plant project; and the Batangas LNG terminal. The Atimonan One project is currently on hold after the Supreme Court invalidated its power supply agreement (PSA) in 2019.
The reason the petition against EO 30 should and probably will fail is that it takes an all-too-common, emotion-based approach to addressing what very well may be real, unresolved environmental and economic concerns with some energy projects. The protestors provide no explanation for their determination that EO 30 is “unconstitutional,” and the actual outcomes of the EPNS initiative belie the argument that the program is “a blessing for the fossil fuel industry.” It is true that about half of the EPNS projects are fossil fuel projects, but about half are not; the 50-50 ratio actually closely follows the Department of Energy's long-established objective of having renewable energy make up 50 percent of the country's energy mix by 2040.
As has happened in many other cases where a particular law or policy has been assailed, the protesters, in this case, are mistaking possible flaws in implementation for a flaw in the concept. The EPNS program is a good idea, one of the very few to come out of the Duterte-era DoE. It at least partially addresses the chronic obstacles to developing energy resource1s and catching up with the country's energy supply requirements. The government of course has the responsibility to apply it prudently, and that application should be carefully monitored. But there is otherwise no compelling reason for the Supreme Court to end the program. As the old saying goes, dumping the entire policy codified in EO 30 would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
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