The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) in Calabarzon has penalized solar firm ATN Philippines Solar Energy Group for 21 violations in operating its 30 MW solar power project in Barangay Macabud, Rodriguez, Rizal, in a ruling issued in March.
Among the reported violations were destruction of crops, failure to stop soil erosion and debris deposit in waterways, and no proper permits to cut trees and waste discharge.
Residents have been complaining for ATN’s activities in the community, which include lack of consultation, and displacement of residents, and environmental degradation.
DENR Calabarzon’s Officer-in-Charge Regional Director Noemi Paranada signed the ruling, after confirming that ATN violated several conditions its environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) for the projects in the barangay.
“… Respondent is hereby directed to pay the total amount of P1,025,000 for violation of conditions of its environmental compliance certificates,” read the ruling, a copy of which was obtained and quoted by an ABS-CBN News report.
“This Office finds substantial evidence that would show that respondent indeed failed to comply with the aforementioned ECC Conditions.”
The regional DENR office cited Article 2, Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution saying, which “provides that every citizen has a right to a balanced and healthful ecology.”
“This right to a healthy environment has been affirmed by the Supreme Court as an enforceable right in the landmark case of Oposa vs. Factoran,” read the 19-page ruling.
The high court decision in July 1993 stopped issuing timber cutting permits, acknowledging the doctrine of intergenerational responsibility for the environment.
“This right carries with it the correlative duty of not impairing the environment, otherwise, sanctions may be provided for the occurrence of environmental imbalance,” read the EMB ruling.
The solar power project violations of ATN were the following: failure to secure a barangay clearance, environmental permits and tree cutting permits at the project site, failure to mitigate environmental damage including soil erosion to a nearby creek, failure to submit compliance monitoring reports, failure to appoint a pollution control officer, and failure to install a billboard with information on the project operation.
ATN also had violations for their land development project which were: failure to stop soil erosion and prevent debris from its quarry from filling natural waterways, the destruction of vegetable gardens and root crops, failure to build a drainage system for effluents or liquid waste, lack of a proper waste management scheme, failure to secure proper permits, failure to appoint a pollution control officer, failure to secure tree-cutting permits, and failure to file compliance monitoring reports.
ATN defended itself by saying that it conducted consultations with local officials for the solar power project, as well as committed to hire locals, follow labor laws on safety hazards, implement siltation control measures, prevent soil erosion, place silt ponds, appoint safety and pollution control officers, and apply for tree-cutting and discharge permits.
In its quarrying activities, ATN said in an explanation filed in May 2018 that would prevent soil erosion, vowed to plant trees along creeks, banks and shores, repair its damaged drainage system, and apply for necessary tree-cutting and discharge permits.
The firm insisted that there was no violation of ECC conditions in its construction of a crushing plant as the certificate covers the processing of excess materials.
ATN resolution also addressed the issue on the damaged crops, saying that “”some crop owners are not entitled to compensation as they have planted their crops ‘in bad faith’. It said 13 claimants were compensated, while 35 others were still ongoing negotiations.
In April 2018, regional environment officials conducted another investigations after residents complained of their eviction from the community.
In January 2019, the EMB received a memorandum from the Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer with results that said “”has no necessary clearance from the concerned government agencies nor the required consultation for the social acceptability of the project.”
In addition, it found out that “”in contrast to the Cease and Desist Order issued by the DENR Secretary for all quarrying activities in the Rizal province.”
Also, The Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) discovered that ATN cut trees without obtaining a DENR permit.
“There is a piecemeal requesting process of ECCs and other permits from concerned government offices” and “non-disclosure of the entire project plan,” preventing the DENR “from properly categorizing ATN’s project in the right project group,” it noted.
ATN entered a solar energy service contract with the Department of Energy in May 2011.