PROTEST STOPS AS GOVT SIGNS AGREEMENT FOR INDEPENDENT ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY
AS THE GOVERNMENT backed down, coal-fired power plant protesters yesterday announced victory and ended a hunger strike – although there were concerns that their disputes with a pro-coal group in their home provinces would remain.
Shortly before the activists were due to begin a march from their protest site in front of the United Nations building in Rachadamnoen Avenue to Government House, Energy Minister Siri Jiraphanpong rushed to cut a deal with them.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed, promising to review the projects. This would mean the withdrawal of the Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) for the plant projects in Krabi and Songkhla’s Thepa District within three days.
The MoU takes the projects back to square one, as it would take at least two years to conduct new EHIAs.
A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to consider the suitability of coal-fired power plant projects in these areas, will also be conducted within nine months, according to the MoU.
If SEA was not approved, the Egat would have to derminate the project permanently.
Meanwhile, all lawsuits between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), the owner of both coal-fired power plant projects, and the activists, will also be withdrawn.
Mhid Chaitem, a resident of Ban Pak Bang in Thepa District, praised the Energy Ministry’s promise, as the SEA study would bring the local natural resources and livelihood of the people into consideration to judge whether a coal-fired power plant project should be located there.
“We oppose the coal-fired power plant project, because the entire process of the EHIA did not really involve all stakeholders and was based on incorrect information about the local natural resources and people’s livelihoods,” Mhid said.
“Therefore we are sure that the SEA, which will be done by a neutral academic, will clearly point out that our home is not suitable for a polluting coal-fired power plant and eventually end the project with an academic conclusion.”
However, he said he still doubted the sincerity of the government and vowed that he would keep monitoring the SEA study, which will be overseen by the Energy Ministry, to make sure that it is done properly.
Meanwhile, about 100 members of Thepa residents network for sustainable development gathered in the district to express their disagreement with the deal. They also threatened to rally in the capital and take the minister to the court for malfeasance.
Mhid said he was concerned about potential conflict at home, because the power plant supporters would be even more hostile to the opposition group and the split within the community would be even wider.
However, Songkhla Chamber of Commerce Chairman Wissapong Sirithananonkul said the local business community supported the deal to bring the project back to square one.
“The project is necessary for energy security. The deal might cause delay but it’s better if the project is environmentally friendly and has no problem with local residents,” he said. “The new EHIA process should be conducted transparently with true public participation.”
Krabi coal-fired power plant protester Akradej Chakjinda said he was sure that the government would keep its promise this time, as the Energy Minister personally signed the MoU and the group would file a lawsuit, if the government broke the agreement.
Akradej also said that, as a result of the MoU, Egat would have to withdraw three defamation lawsuits against the activists – one case against him and two against Prasitchai Nu-nuan.
However, he stated that the case against 17 coal-fired power plant protesters from the demonstration crackdown in Songkhla was not covered by this MoU, because it had already been considered by a court.
Meanwhile, Egat said that its executives were meeting with the Cabinet yesterday evening to listen to the new direction to secure power security in the South. There would be further updates about the alternative power-generating plan if these two projects were permanently revoked.