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Malaysia undermines commitment to protect Coral Triangle, backtracks on climate pledge

The Malaysian government will proceed with a plan to install a second-hand coal plant from China on the edge of the Coral Triangle in Borneo despite widespread condemnation from environmental groups and local people, reports Green SURF, a coalition that opposes the project.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Peter Chin said Monday that the coal project would proceed as planned despite a rejected environmental impact assessment and continued protests by the people of Sabah, the Malaysian where the plant will be located. Chin said a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) study will be resubmitted.

Green SURF reacted angrily to the news.

“One minute the Government is promoting green technology, especially when it makes statements at international platforms. The next minute, it is pushing for a coal plant in Sabah, known for its biodiversity,” said Green SURF representative Wong Tack in a statement.

“Actions taken by the Government in pushing for this coal plant are totally against their own words and policies.”

On December 22, 2008, the earthen wall of a containment pond at Tennessee’s Kingston Fossil Plant failed, releasing 4 million cubic meters of fly ash slurry. The slurry — laced with arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium — covered 120 hectares of land, damaging homes and polluting the local river. The clean-up cost is estimated at $675 and $975 million. The slurry was generated by coal burning at the plant. Photo courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Wong said that Chin’s assertion that the government needs to play an active role in green technology in Malaysia is contradicted by his push for the coal plant, which relies on out-dated technology and will pollute the Coral Triangle, contribute to local acid rain, and worsen air quality in a state working to build its ecotourism industry.

The coal plant is unpopular in Sabah, which has already rejected it twice before. The issue is becoming political, with local groups using it to press state politicians. But politicians at the federal level—particularly the Prime Minister—support the project.

“How can the Government even say it’s listening to the people?” asked Wong. “The Minister must either be totally deaf or protecting some interests, instead of protecting interests of the people.”

Pressure for the plant to proceed is coming from Tenaga Nasional Berhad, which is the parent company of Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd. Tan Sri Leo Moggie, the chairman of Tenaga Nasional Berhad, has taken out advertisements in newspapers in Sabah arguing for the coal plant.

Critics say Tenaga Nasional Berhad and the federal government have ignored Sabah’s other energy options, which were highlighted in a study earlier this year by Dan Kammen, a renewable energy expert at University of California, Berkeley and the World Bank’s Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. Kammen showed that Sabah could generate substantial amounts of energy from greener sources.

“We found that energy efficiency, biofuels, hydropower, and geothermal provide immediate advantages for the region over fossil fuels, and that in time both solar and ocean energy could provide even more energy than coal, while building jobs and a clean environment,” Kammen told during an interview in March.

Malaysia last year pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

The Coral Triangle is an internationally recognized region of high marine biodiversity.

Disclosure: Tan Sri Leo Moggie of Tenaga Nasional Berhad has threatened legal action against for our reporting on this issue.

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