The shocking failure of the environmental assessment of the second phase Matarbari coal-power project’s second phase to address major environmental health and public health concerns in the ecologically fragile coastal area is shocking. The assessment, conducted under the supervision of Tokyo Electric Power Service Co Ltd on the construction of the 1200MW power plant in a sequel to another 1200MW that is being constructed in Cox’s Bazar, that the Japan International Cooperation Agency has submitted to the environment department is said to have provided misleading information, used flawed air quality modelling and wilfully omitted facts to avoid attending to major concerns that the project is likely to cause. This is unacceptable because of the failures or flaws of the environmental impact assessment. The United Nations Environment Programme considers it an essential step in developing projects. It provides information in advance about possible harmful consequences and advises on how to deal with them.
Experts claim that the assessment failed to identify potential hazards that the coal-fired power plant could pose, particularly regarding the use of local waterways to transport the large amount of coal. The area covered by the assessment is 15 kms around the project area. However, important places like the Chattogram City, which is 58 kilometers away, and Sonadia (17 km) are not included. Pollutants released by the plant could travel thousands of kilometers through air and water, and could contaminate the food supply chain. The assessment proposes to set aside a 631-kilometre coal ash pool. This is 18 times larger than that at the 525MW Barapukuria plant. It is also 3.5 times larger than the pond at Rampal’s 1,320MW coal plant and twice as large as the pond at Payra’s 2,640W coal plant. The pond would be 14m above the sea level. The assessment also doesn’t provide any engineering details. Bangladesh is unable to manage the 35-acre coal ash pond at Barapukuria. This is due to the presence of heavy metals like chromium, lead and many other metals. Although the assessment does mention the use of a lining, without any further engineering details, it doesn’t mention any leachate collection systems. Experts also disapprove the wet disposal coal ash in a pond located on an island that is vulnerable to flooding. The plan does not provide a buffer or safety zone between pond and River Kohelia, which is where people live. The assessment also used flawed air quality modelling that showed a much lower pollution level.
The government should not move forward with the project without conducting an environmental impact assessment. Even if the assessment shows a lower impact, the impact would still be as it should be. An environment cannot be fooled by a rosy plan.