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Indonesian court revokes environmental license for the Cirebon coal plant expansion

  • An Indonesian administrative court ruled that expansion plans for the Cirebon coal-fired power plant in West Java are in violation of the local spatial planning law.
  • The court ordered the project’s environmental license be revoked, without which development should not be able to continue.
  • The verdict came one day after a consortium of lenders, led by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), committed to providing $1.74 billion in project financing.
  • Local and international environment activists have protested the expansion plans for years, and the project is currently the subject of a civil suit.

An Indonesian court has ordered the revocation of the environmental permit for the Cirebon 2 coal-fired power plant.

The project aims to build a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant next to an existing 600-megawatt facility in Cirebon in the western part of Indonesia’s Java Island. The current power plant and the planned expansion have been the subject of an ongoing campaign by local and international environmental activists.

According to an April 19 judgement from the Bandung Administrative Court, the expansion plan violated the local spatial planning law. Under that law, project developers PT. Cirebon Energi Prasarana had permission to operate in one sub-district, Astanajapura. However, the project plans  were also found to cover a second sub-district, Mundu, which is zoned for other purposes, Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) explained in an April 20 press statement.

“This is an important judgement which shows the failure of the local government to respect an approvals process designed to protect the lives and livelihoods of people in the surrounding area,” added Wahyu Widianto, campaign manager of WALHI West Java.

Fisherman rally in front of the Bandung Administrative Courthouse on April 19, awaiting the court’s ruling. Photo by Donny Iqbal/Mongabay.

Without an environmental permit, the project should not be allowed to continue. However, the developers can appeal the ruling within 14 days of its issuance.

Although it is still not final, the verdict marks a significant victory for activists who have long been fighting coal-power developments in Cirebon. Dozen of residents from the affected sub-districts gathered at the Bandung courthouse to hear the verdict and, later, to celebrate the news.

They claim the existing plant has had negative health impacts due to air pollution and has already harmed the livelihoods of fisherman, farmers and salt-makers in the area.

Since the 600-megawatt plant opened five years ago, life in Cirebon has become increasingly precarious, 70-year old Astanajapura sub-district resident Jusmadi told Mongabay-Indonesia. Fish are more difficult to find, rice crops suffer from air pollution, and fishponds don’t always produce fish, said Jusmadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Villagers fear adding an additional 1,000-megawatts of capacity will have even greater impact on them.

Activists unfurl banners saying ‘Quit Coal’ from the cranes as they block the loading of coal at the Cirebon Coal Power Plant in May 2016. Photo by Afriadi Hikmal/Greenpeace.

The project has been the focus of numerous demonstrations, including a May 2016 protest in which environmental activists climbed machinery used to unload fuel being shipped into the plant, hanging protest banners and blocking the supply of coal.

The expansion plans for Cirebon are also the subject of a civil case, which alleges that local officials did not satisfy all legal and procedural requirements before clearing the project’s environmental impact assessment, known locally as an AMDAL. Among other issues, the suit alleges that the AMDAL and environmental permit were issued without legally required consultations with affected communities, WALHI said.

Despite the controversy over the project, financing plans have continued to move forward. On April 18, the day before the court ruling, a consortium of international financers led by the state-owned Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) committed to providing the project $1.74 billion in funding.

“Signing the loan agreement on day before the court decision shows a total disrespect for Indonesian laws and even could be seen as an attempt to influence the court. Therefore, JBIC now must drop all financing plans for Cirebon 2,” WALHI campaigner Dwi Sawung said in a press statement.

A masked activists holds an anti-fossil fuel banner outside the Bandung Administrative Court on April 19. Photo by Donny Iqbal/Mongabay.

Japanese environmental groups — including Friends of the Earth Japan, Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society, Kiko Network and 350.org Japan — have also called on JBIC to withdraw financing for the project.

“We express our strong and serious objection against JBIC’s premature decision to finance Cirebon 2, which prioritises the company’s profit over the local people’s rights, whilst ignoring a judicial decision in the host country and in contravention of its own guidelines,” the NGOs wrote in an April 19 joint statement.

Sensitive to both climate change concerns and public pressure, multilateral and Western lenders have increasingly backed away from funding coal plants. Meanwhile, Asian financial institutions like the JBIC have become increasingly important funders for such projects. In Indonesia, JBIC has also come under scrutiny for its role in financing the Tanjung Jati B and Batang coal-fired power plants.

JBIC did not respond to an emailed request for comments.

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