Kenyan court blocks coal project near world heritage site

Residents and environmentalists cheered Wednesday’s ruling which blocks East Africa’s first coal-fired power station.

Kenya coal protests
The National Environment Tribunal (NET) cancelled an environmental impact assessment lisence for the Lamu coal project [Reuters/Baz Ratner]

Nairobi, Kenya – Plans for the development of a coal-fired power plant near a UNESCO world heritage site in Kenya‘s coastal Lamu region have been scuttled. On Wednesday, an environment tribunal revoked a permit issued for the contentious project.

The National Environment Tribunal (NET) cancelled an environmental impact assessment licence for the Lamu coal project, ruling that “the circumstances under which it was issued were flawed.” The project is East Africa’s first coal-fired power station.

Reading the decision for the tribunal, Justice Mohamed Balala said: “The EIA licence issued by NEMA [National Environment Management Authority] to the coal project appears to be generic and not specific to the project.”

“Air pollution from coal-fired power plants includes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and heavy metals, leading to smog, acid rain, toxins in the environment, and numerous respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular effects,” Balala read. “For [NEMA] to have neglected its role in this way was irresponsible.”

Local residents applaud the ruling

Lamu residents and activists who had campaigned against the project, applauded the ruling.

“This is a huge win for the environment, for the people of Kenya and most especially for the people of Lamu,” said Hussein Khalid, Executive Director for Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), a civil society organisation based in the coastal region of Kenya.

“If this project had been permitted to proceed it would have had devastating effects on the environment and the health of people in Lamu,” Khalid told Al Jazeera.

Residents of Lamu and local leaders have repeatedly warned that the plant would be in the heart of a world heritage tourist hub and threaten the livelihoods and health of local communities.

A 2015, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee report stated that: “There can be no doubt that a project of this scale and scope, in an area as remote and protected as Lamu, cannot help but have profound negative impacts on the heritage.”

Last week, the government condemned critics of the Lamu coal power station, terming them, “enemies of progress”.

“The plant will boost industrialisation and improve the lives of Kenyans. Industrialisation requires affordable, stable and reliable sources of energy. In the case of Kenya, that source has been identified as coal. It will be the main source to drive industrial growth,” Government spokesman Col (Rtd) Cyrus Oguna had told a press conference in Nairobi.

Who gets the license now?

The revoked license had been issued to Amu Power Company, a consortium of Kenyan firms Centum Investment Plc and Gulf Energy Ltd as well as international backers.

In February 2015, Amu Power received $1.2bn in financing from the Industrial Commercial Bank of China for the Lamu coal power station.

While activists applaud Wednesday’s decision, they plan to remain vigilant. “This battle is far from over,” said MUHURI’s Khalid. “We can be sure the interested parties will appeal because it is a project that has got the full backing of government…but we’re motivated even as we prepare for the next round.”

Source: Al Jazeera