Subject: The Age: Legal Battle To Halt East Timor's Heavy-Polluting Power Plants

The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Legal Battle To Halt East Timor's Heavy-Polluting Power Plants

Miki Perkins, Dili

EAST Timorese environmental groups and the Fretilin opposition will launch a legal challenge to stop the construction of three heavily polluting power plants in the country.

President Jose Ramos Horta said he would conduct an investigation into the $US375 million ($A470 million) project. He said his inquiry would complement the Government's promised independent environmental impact assessment, which is yet to materialise despite local non-government organisations claims that land clearing has begun at one of the sites, a few kilometres east of Dili.

Environmental groups, non-government organisations and the opposition have criticised the purchase of the heavy-oil plants amid rumours about irregularities in contracts with the Beijing-owned Chinese Nuclear Industry 22nd Construction Company.

The three power plants - the country's largest capital project - will force gas-rich East Timor to import heavy oil for at least three decades to fuel generators that have operated in China for more than 20 years.

Heavy-oil technology has been phased out in most countries because it creates acid rain, water pollution, toxic waste and greenhouse gas emissions. In March, Mr Ramos Horta told Parliament he would ask an independent body to carry out an environmental impact assessment of the plants, but on Friday, he said the body had yet to be appointed.

While expressing confidence in Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, Mr Ramos Horta said he would undertake his own research. "I am looking into this, not because I don't trust the Prime Minister . . . but because I don't want anyone . . . to think we are some bunch of individuals with no experience who eat peanuts and bananas.

"I have two concerns: one is the reliability on a technical level of this company. And I'm concerned like many about the environmental impact."

In a recent report, the Australia-based National Toxics Network said pollution from heavy-oil plants could spread in soil for kilometres, as well as drift through the atmosphere for thousands of kilometres and contaminate other countries.

Opposition spokesman Jose Teixeira said Fretilin and environment groups would mount a joint court challenge because the Government had breached environmental laws.

An Asian Development Bank study showed that, by 2025, the country's energy needs would be about 100 megawatts a day. The capacity from the heavy-oil plants will be double that.

Mr Teixeira said critics suspected the Government was doing the groundwork to build casinos and luxury hotels.

Dili-based environmental group Haburas said waste water from one of the plants would be released directly into the sea in a rare mangrove area.

Miki Perkins travelled to East Timor with the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.


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