Is It True That Coal Ash Isn’t Dangerous?

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Many stakeholders, including environmentalists, economists, and policymakers, have expressed concern about natural and mineral resource problems as a result of the rapid pace of globalization in recent decades. Natural and mineral resources in Indonesia are considered state property, which means that the central government is responsible for enforcing all operations related to resource access and utilization. It is explicitly stated in Indonesia’s Constitutional Law that any resources under the control of the state will be used for the nation’s prosperity. However, even though the regulation is clearly defined, the situation and facts may differ. Many issues arise as a result of governments’ inability to enforce natural and mineral resource laws, as well as to manage the waste of mineral resources.

In early February 2021, the Indonesian government announced that FABA (fly ash and bottom ash) from the burning coal is no longer considered hazardous waste. Instinctively, this decision has sparked questions about Indonesia’s environmental and sustainability problems, and a number of stakeholders have weighed in on the benefits and drawbacks of this assertion.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Fly Ash and Bottom Ash (FABA)

When scientists addressed the materials generated by burning coal decades ago, they rarely used common words, making it difficult for the general public to comprehend. However, they are now attempting to simplify things by using the acronym FABA (fly ash and bottom ash). Fly ash is the ash from burning coal that floats on the surface, while bottom ash is the ash that falls to the ground. Carbon, nitrogen, and silica are only a few of the FABA components. These components can then be used as a raw material for a variety of industrial goods, such as asphalt, pavement blocks, and road foundations. Apart from that, coal remains Indonesia’s most wanted mining resources option, as government has an ambitious plan to make coal as a primary source for power generation (54.4%) by 2025.Its mission was to produce electricity across Indonesia, including in rural and remote areas. The start is promising; we can see that the Indonesian government has placed a high priority on infrastructure development and has reaped substantial economic benefits as a result of its actions, but is this the best option?

Greenpeace Report in 2015 has mentioned that as a country with rapid economic development, Indonesia has dozens of coal-fired power plants which produced hundreds of thousands of tons of emission each year. Mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other chemicals are released into the air by these power plants, and these toxins penetrate deep into people’s lungs. Every year, over three million people die prematurely as a result of air pollution. Lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and respiratory diseases are all increased by pollution. Coal combustion is one of the most significant sources of emissions. Coal mining not only caused air pollution, which was harmful to people’s health, but it also destroyed Indonesia’s rainforests and lowered the quality of water in rivers and lakes. Fish caught in an area near a coal-fired power plant, for example, had 19 times more mercury than fish caught in other areas without power plants. It is undeniably endangering the health of millions of people.

Resource Crisis versus Economic Gap: What to Do?

In 2011, a well-known economist, Jeffrey D. Sachs, predicted that the growing resource crisis will widen the gap between the rich and the poor– and could even contribute to an increase in inequality. Survival is a bloody war. The wealthy people will attempt to use their wealth to seize more land, water, and resources for themselves and many will endorse violent means if necessary. It also exists in Indonesia, where the economic disparity between the wealthy and the poor has grown significantly in recent decades. In contrast, Indonesia’s four wealthiest men own more capital than the country’s entire population of 100 million poor citizens. This condition results in the highest levels of poverty and presents a significant challenge to social stability.

And, since the coal-burning regulation has been enacted and made available to industry, the Indonesian government has a few options for balancing economic demand while still protecting the environment: first, we can try a new energy scenario by boosting and converting our economies to renewable energy resources, as we have sufficient resources. It is not an easy homework to complete, but it does not mean impossible. Second, government may levy fair taxes on the wealthy in order to prevent the economic gap from widening. Third, strengthen environmental laws to restrict coal-burning regulations, especially to reduce contaminated land and water, as well as polluted air, in order to protect human health. Finally, as Mahatma Ghandi said,“there is enough on Earth to meet everyone’s needs, but not enough to satisfy everyone’s greed”

Lengga Pradipta
Lengga Pradipta
A human ecology researcher in Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Having interests on environmental justice, natural resources management and gender issue.

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