Published on: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: It was the people of Sabah who thrice rejected the proposed 300MW coal-fired plant and not a NGO leader as Deputy Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid made it up to be, Sabah Environment Protection Association (Sepa) President Larnash Thanda clarified, Wednesday.
Larnash said Sepa felt compelled to respond to reports which quoted Mahdzir as insinuating that the proposed plant was prevented by "a NGO leader" which implicitly referred to former Sepa President Wong Tack.
"It's the people of Sabah and a slew of stakeholders who were against the plant deemed destructive to Sabah's famously rich natural marine endowment because of the huge continuous waste water discharge to the sea once it sets foot," Larnash said, in a statement.
"Mahdzir is new to this Ministry and seem unfamiliar with what occurred in Sabah for the last few years, although he spent time here as a teacher in the 1990s," she added.
"For instance, Silam, Lahad Datu, was the first proposed site where the Environment Impact Assessment was not approved."
"The site (formerly Pacific Hardwood sawmill) picked unilaterally by the project proponent is located right opposite to some large commercial aqua-culture fish farms and it was the owners of these export aquaculture farms who raised hell because they knew the non-stop of discharge of millions of litres of toxic coolant waste water every day for the next century from the plant would condemn their business outright," Larnash said.
"Anyone who has any common sense would know the fool-hardiness of dumping a very polluting coal-fired power plant there because aquaculture requires high water quality which cannot be compromised by such massive industrial pollution pouring into the coast.
"We are sure Mahdzir has no idea that this was the most valid background reason that led our esteemed past President Wong Tack to lead a grassroots movement to oppose the project," Larnash said.
"In the end, the State Assembly validated the local objections by rejecting the Silam move, on grounds of potential harm it would bring to the marine industry and local fishing community because of the sensitive nature of the area," Larnash said.
The outcry led to choice of the second site, this time Sequntor in Sandakan, where health practitioneers, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and people with asthmatic problems became alarmed and led even an greater protest through street rallies and Wong Tack was basically not involved in the Sandakan case, Larnash said.
Besides, Sequntor is just kilometres from the world renowned nature tourism Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and people kept asking how on earth could Sabah leverage its flourishing wildlife tourism when private power producers from KL could simply dump a most atmospherically and water polluting industrial complex right next to the Orangutans which the world comes to see every day, Larnash said.
Again, the State Assembly rejected Sequntor in December 2008 in view of the tide of community objections. Finally, the Prime Minister announced at a congress of a political party that Sinakut, Dent Peninsula, near Lahad Datu would be the third site which is close to Kg Tandau, scene of the Sulu Invasion in February 2013, Larnash noted .
But again, the sea off Sinakut, which is a key part of the Coral Triangle, is a lobster gold mine, according to aqua culture entrepreneur., Datuk Lo Fui Ming.
Meaning all these coastal sites chosen by the whims and fancies of project proponents encroach Sabah's richest marine and wildlife habitats that have been rightly rejected but Mahdzir is blaming the people of Sabah for standing up to protect their natural endowment against the private wishes of independent power producers.
"In November 2009, GreenSurf, a coalition of individuals and NGOs was formed to lead the fight against the proposed coal-fired power plant. In August 2010 the Detailed EIA was rejected due to the hundreds of letters of objecting to the proposed coal-fired plant that were sent to the Department of Environment," Larnash said.
"In a press statement announcing the rejection of the third attempt of the proposed coal-fired power plant issued by the Chief Minister of Sabah's Office on 16 February 2011, it stated that 'The Prime Miniser understands that while we need to build up our power supply in Sabah, it can't be done at the expense of the people's welfare and the environment'," Larnash noted.
"So, even the Prime Minister says he understands . So why are we wasting our time revisiting or even entertaining this idea of another coal-fired power plant in Sabah?" Larnash asked.
"Enough time, money and effort had been spent on this issue and we must move forward with the Green Energy agenda not take two steps backwards by looking at dirty sources of energy like coal," Larnash said.
"Mahdzir should be concentrating on improving and expanding Green Energy resources.
Sabah has plenty of these and we are more than happy to sit down with him to discuss such options," Larnash said.