Environmentalists Get Huge Win: Controversial Coal Plant in Borneo Is Sidelined

Environmentalists have won a victory in a battle to prevent a coal-fired power plant being built in Malaysian Borneo, with a minister Thursday rejecting the plan due to environmental concerns.

Sabah state environment minister Masidi Manjun reportedly said proponents of the project now have the choice to either drop the controversial power project or launch an appeal to conduct another environmental assessment study.

“At this point of time, all quarters should respect the Department of Environment (DOE) decision,” he was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.

The 300-megawatt plant in Lahad Datu, in Sabah state which along with Sarawak makes up Malaysia’s half of Borneo island, would face the Coral Triangle which is one of the world’s most biodiverse marine environments.

The area, which spans the seas around East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, is home to 75 percent of all known coral species.

Environmentalists immediately hailed the decision.

Opposition was led by Green Surf, a coalition of groups including the Malaysian Nature Society, which said the plant would displace villagers and threaten endangered species including orangutans and Bornean rhinos.

Spokesman Wong Tack said that proponents of the project, which national energy provider Tenaga Nasional has a stake, should scrap it altogether.

“We thank the DOE for carrying out their duty without fear or favour. Now that a federal agency has made such a decision, we hope that the state government too will take a stand,” he said.

“Let us not waste any more time and energy. We are confident alternatives can be put in place effectively in the short term.”

The plant is the latest energy project to stir controversy in Borneo. The vast Bakun dam in neighbouring Sarawak which saw swathes of rainforest cleared and thousands of indigenous people displaced also drew intense criticism.

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