Clean Air Act after 23 years: Time to revisit the law

Published November 12, 2022, 5:06 PM

by Alexa Basa

•       The Clean Air Act aims to ensure a “balanced and healthful ecology” for all Filipinos, in tune with “the rhythm and harmony of nature,” emphasizing the “polluters must pay” principle.

•       The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acts as the “lead agency” in the implementation of the law.

•       Some of the activities prohibited by the Clean Air Act to prevent air pollution are: Incineration (burning biomedical, hazardous, and municipal waste) except for the “traditional small-scale method of community or neighborhood sanitation ‘siga,’ traditional, agricultural, cultural, health, and food preparation and crematoria.”

•       The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) also implements the Industries Emission Monitoring Program to ensure that industries follow emission standards.

•       In this program, the DENR-EMB has established the Sampling Assessment Team to monitor the emissions coming from all the different industries’ Air Pollution Source Installations.

Air pollution puts human and environmental health at various risks, which is one of the main obstacles to sustainable development. It could come from emissions from vehicles, factories, power plants, and even smoking.

To prevent pollution, the Clean Air Act, also known as Republic Act No. 8749, was signed by former president Joseph Estrada on June 23, 1999, becoming one of the major environmental laws in the Philippines.

But air pollution has been an environmental issue in the country for a very long time, even with the presence of the law. More than 23 years after its enactment, it’s time to revisit the law.

KEEPING THE SKIES CLEAR. The Clean Air Act monitors air pollution levels and sources so that our skies will be clear and clean which is good for the health of the people. (Photo by AGD Productions via Pixabay)

The Clean Air Act aims to ensure a “balanced and healthful ecology” for all Filipinos, in tune with “the rhythm and harmony of nature,” emphasizing the “polluters must pay” principle. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acts as the “lead agency” in the implementation of the law.
Under the law, the country is divided into various airsheds based on “areas with similar climate, meteorology, and topology which affect the interchange and diffusion of pollutants in the atmosphere, or areas which share common interest or face similar development programs, prospects or problems.” Each airshed will have a common action plan and “a system of planning and coordination” to control the air quality more effectively.

It further states that the DENR, “in coordination with other concerned agencies, shall review and or revise and publish annually a list of hazardous air pollutants with corresponding ambient guideline values and/or standard necessary to protect health and safety, and general welfare.”

Apart from this, stationary sources and motor vehicles should follow the prescribed emission standards.

TRAFFIC PROBLEM. The increasing number of vehicles cannot be accommodated by Metro Manila’s roads and thoroughfares causing the traffic problem which also contributes to air pollution. (Manila Bulletin File PHoto)

Prohibitions

These activities are prohibited by the Clean Air Act to prevent air pollution:
•       Incineration (burning biomedical, hazardous, and municipal waste) except for the “traditional small-scale method of community or neighborhood sanitation ‘siga,’ traditional, agricultural, cultural, health, and food preparation and crematoria.”
•       Smoking “inside a public building or an enclosed public place including public vehicles and other means of transport or in any enclosed area outside of one’s private residence, private place of work or any duly designated smoking area.”
•       “Manufacture, import, sell, supply, offer for sale, dispense, transport or introduce into commerce” unleaded premium gasoline, automotive diesel, and industrial diesel fuels without meeting fuel specifications.
•       “Manufacture, import, and sale of leaded gasoline and engines and/or components requiring leaded gasoline.”
•       “Manufacture, processing, and trade” of fuel or fuel additives without them having prior registration with the Department of Energy.

Fines and penalties for violations

Under the law, an owner or operator of a stationary source with an “actual exceedance of any pollution or air quality standards” will pay not more than P100,000 for each day of its violation until it has complied with the standards. On top of that, the stationary source may be shut down or suspended until there are environmental safeguards – except when it is already the third offense, in which the stationary source will be closed permanently and immediately.

For violations in stationary sources, the law said that fines would increase by at least 10 percent every three years to account for inflation and avoid losing its deterrent effect.

Meanwhile, the driver or operator of a vehicle exceeding emission standards will pay a fine not more than P2,000 for the first offense, not more than P4,000 but not less than P2,000 for the second offense, and not more than P6,000 but not less than P4,000 for the third offense. Also, motor vehicle registration suspension will take effect for one year on the third offense.

The vehicle will also be impounded unless the fines are paid in full. The license plate will be turned over to the Department of Transportation and Communications until the owner or operator makes the necessary repairs to comply with the standards. The driver and operator will also undergo a “pollution control management” seminar.

But the law also said that anyone, who has a violation about the national inspection and maintenance program “including technicians and facility compliance shall [be] penalized with a fine of not less than Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000) or cancellation of license of both the technician and the center, or both, as determined by the [Department of Trade and Industry].”

Anyone who violates other law provisions will either pay a fine not more than P100,000 but not less than P10,000, face six months to six years imprisonment, or both. In case of a gross violation, the offender will face imprisonment of not less than six years but not more than 10 years.

It also explained, in gross violation and other law provisions in the act, that if the offender is a juridical person or non-human legal person, its “president, manager, directors, trustees, the pollution control officer or the officials directly in charge of the operations shall suffer the penalty herein provided.”

NO SMOKING ZONES. The Clean Air Act prohibits smoking inside a public building or an enclosed public place including public vehicles and other means of transport or in any enclosed area outside of one’s private residence, private place of work or any duly designated smoking area. (Gerd Altmann via Pixabay)

Implementation

The DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) implements the Clean Air Act. To ensure that vehicles comply with the emission standards, EMB is implementing the Motor Vehicle Emission Management Program.

In the Bahay Tambutso project, DENR-EMB and its partner agencies and local government units apprehend vehicles and inspect if they comply with the standards.

Meanwhile, section 22 of the law said that “any imported new or locally-assembled new motor vehicle” must secure a Certificate of Conformity (COC) before it can be registered to ensure that it meets the emission standards. DENR, through EMB, issues the COC.

In 2015, DENR also released administrative order no. 2015-04, which showed the emission standards for vehicles “loaded with EURO 4 fuel” and stated that all new vehicles to be used and introduced in the market starting January 2016 must be Euro 4 engines and meet its required emission limits. In euro 4 engines, sulfur, benzenes, and aromatics are lower compared to euro 2 engines.

EMB also implements the Industrial Emission Monitoring Program to ensure that industries follow emission standards. In this program, the DENR-EMB has established the Sampling Assessment Team to monitor the emissions coming from all the different industries’ Air Pollution Source Installations (APSIs).

The bureau also implements the General Ambient and Roadside Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Program. In this program, regional monitoring stations assess criteria air pollutants to monitor the country’s ambient air quality.

In general, ambient air quality in a “fixed area” is being monitored. On the roadside, ambient air quality close to busy roads is being monitored.

Education and information campaign

The law also promotes public information and education campaigns through the DENR, the Department of Education, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Agriculture, and the Philippine Information Agency. These campaigns must encourage other government agencies and private sectors to participate.

 
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