Is cheaper fuel the answer?
While there is a clamor for more affordable fuels to address inflation, it might be wise for the government and the public to consider its health impacts.
Speakers and participants to the recent Kamayan para sa Kalikasan Forum in Quezon City were one in this conclusion.
Environment Undersecretary Juan Miguel T. Cuna noted that while the intention to address inflation is noble, there is a need to review, even reconsider the approach due to a number of reasons―both legal and medical.
“We cannot regress and compromise air quality,” Cuna pointed out.
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board’s recent approval to increase jeep, and bus fares in November was met with public displeasure.
The Department of Energy’s response is to reintroduce Euro-2 grade fuels―a move that runs contrary to the provisions in the Clean Air Act.
The highest concentration of pollution in Metro Manila is in EDSA, making it a dangerous place for hundreds of thousands who travel, work, study or stay along the thoroughfare.
“We might be killing, penalizing ourselves by regressing in terms of fuel quality. Why regress when we know that lower quality fuels can result in more health problems for the public,” Rene Pineda, president of Partnership for Clean Air, noted.
The group Green Convergence has written the Department of Health to take part in the discussion concerning the health impacts of the transition from Euro-4 to Euro-2.
Records of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources show that despite the presence of many vehicles that are not Euro compliant, air quality in Metro Manila has improved, “though not yet in the targeted levels as set in the parameters by law.”
“The law states that only Euro 4 fuels should be used and sold in the market. And we have actually upgraded our standards. We should do everything we can to sustain that position in view of the health impacts of reintroducing Euro-2 diesel fuels,” Cuna explained.
Since 2016, only Euro-4 fuels are allowed to be marketed in all gasoline stations, and all engines that have been imported, manufactured and installed in vehicles are required to be Euro-4 compliant as mandated by the Clean Air Act.
Euro-2 maybe cheaper, but it is a lower standard fuel that has been proven to be less safe in view of the pollutants it releases into the atmosphere.
Cuna said that while the Energy Department is tasked “to determine fuel mixes,” the DENR is the lead agency when it comes to implementing the Clean Air Act.
“The DOE’s plan may sound good, but it should only be a temporary stop-gap response. A thorough review maybe needed before this issuance is made national,” Cuna added.
The DOE released the order endorsing the return of Euro-2 fuels last August 10, which violates the provisions of the Clean Air Act which requires all fuels to be compliant with Euro 4 standards.
“The DOE in effect usurps the authority of the law, Congress and the DENR, by issuing the order, by technically amending the Clean Air Act thru a department order that goes against the mandates of the law,” Pineda noted.
Pineda added that selling dirty fuel in effect invalidates the Clean Air Act, and thus distorts and disregards the efforts of the DENR to do its job of cleaning the air.
“We cannot adopt a simple ‘business as usual attitude’ and continue improving air quality. There has to be consultation with all stakeholders,” Pineda said.
Cuna lamented that the Energy Department may have overlooked the efforts of the DENR to improve air quality in the DOE’s desire to make fuel prices affordable to the public.
The World Health Organization has declared that diesel exhaust fumes are cancerous and in response, a number of European cities have banned petrol and diesel cars as green initiatives spread across continents.
To date, other countries have transitioned to Euro 5, and no other country produces euro 2 engines.
Cuna attributed this to the hard work of policy makers led by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau, who in coordination with different groups, have installed 20 monitoring stations in the National Capital Region and key cities throughout the Philippines to monitor the production of particulate matter (PM5) in the atmosphere, most of which are traced as products of motor vehicles.
Dr. Angelina P. Galang, Green Convergence Convenor said that there is the need to help the poor, but warned that the DOE’s move will bring about environmental problems that will compromise the health of the public.
“We should not go back to the old days when vehicles contribute a lot to air pollution,” said Galang.