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Ex-yoga missionary unleashes rage on Philippine miners
Manila (AFP) Feb 23, 2017

Israeli ministry orders Haifa ammonia tank shutdown
Jerusalem (AFP) Feb 22, 2017 - Israel's environment ministry announced Wednesday it will not renew the license of an ammonia container in the port city of Haifa as it poses a potentially deadly threat to residents.

The container, which holds 12,000 tonnes of the toxic, corrosive liquid, puts the public "at a risk we cannot accept", the ministry said in a statement.

From March 1 the facility will not be permitted to receive any new shipments of ammonia but it then has three months in which it can supply secondary users while they find alternative supplies.

Located in the northern city's densely-populated bayside area, it serves as a storage tank for Haifa Chemicals, which uses the material as a component in the manufacture of fertilisers and industrial chemicals.

"There is no place in Haifa Bay for the tank, which endangers human life," deputy minister Yaron Mazuz, a Haifa native, said in the statement.

The long-festering issue made fresh headlines last year when Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah, said the 31 year-old ammonia container would be like "a nuclear bomb" if hit by his group's missiles.

Nasrallah, whose rockets pounded the Haifa area in a 2006 war with Israel, echoed warnings from experts and activists cited in Israeli media that "tens of thousands of people" would be killed if the container was struck.

Senior environment ministry officials, however, said Wednesday that security threats were not part of their remit and their safety fears were based on environmental dangers alone, including possible consequences of an earthquake.

In addition to the tank itself, there were also environmental risks associated with the docking and unloading of the tankers which transport the ammonia to Haifa.

The ministry said Haifa Chemicals, an Israeli-based multinational, could continue to use the tank until March 1 but must not top it up.

In addition to its own needs, the company sells some of its ammonia stocks to other users such as chemical plants, defence manufacturers and cold stores, as well as for water and sewage treatment.

By June 1 they must find other sources of supply, such as direct imports from neighbouring Jordan, senior officials said.

Wednesday's environment ministry announcement came in the wake of repeated court battles.

Responding to a petition by Haifa city council, a local court ruled on February 13 that the container must be emptied within 10 days. Haifa Chemicals appealed that decision and a new court hearing is set for Sunday.

A spokesman for Haifa council told AFP it would demand that the container be drained without further delay.

The environment ministry's decision and court ruling come after a decades-long struggle of environmental groups opposed to the tank.

After two decades as a yoga missionary, Philippine Environment Secretary Regina Lopez is unleashing her inner rage on the mining industry while aiming for Bhutan-style gross national happiness.

Lopez has in recent months moved global commodity markets with a campaign to close roughly two-thirds of the existing mines in the Philippines, which is the world's biggest supplier of nickel ore and a major source of copper.

For the 63-year-old, her sudden elevation by firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte to government last year after a lifetime of spiritual and environmental pursuits has presented an unexpected chance to bring about radical change in society.

"This is a golden opportunity to do the right thing," Lopez, popularly known as Gina, told AFP in an interview on Wednesday at her bustling Manila office as she explained her determination to take on the mining industry.

"Not everyone has the guts and the wherewithal to stand on big business's toes. Right now I have that platform."

Lopez casts mining in a sinister light, accusing powerful business figures and politicians involved in the industry of corruption and rapaciousness.

She insists mining is destroying the Southeast Asian archipelago's ecosystem, and that the natural resources on offer can be used in much more sustainable ways.

"We have 7,000 islands and if we rape the islands... and 95 percent of the wealth goes out of those islands, we will never see the light of day," Lopez said.

Lopez has ordered the closure or suspension of 28 mines which, if implemented, would leave just 12 in operation. She has also recommended the contracts of 75 planned mines be cancelled to protect watersheds.

- Fightback -

Mining Inc is fighting back, with a public relations blitz insisting it is a law-abiding industry that generates billions of dollars for the economy and directly supports 1.2 million people.

It has appealed to Duterte, who has spoken fiercely against the industry but nevertheless also has many pro-mining figures in his cabinet, to over-rule Lopez.

It is also lobbying for a congressional committee to reject her nomination as environment secretary when it conducts a confirmation hearing next month.

"This is the first time we have opposed an appointee of the president," Chamber of Mines of the Philippines vice president Ronald Recidoro told AFP.

"We've had to because our existence is on the line. If she is confirmed the mining industry is finished, we are done."

If Lopez survives as environment secretary and gets to serve her full six-year term, she has much bigger plans for remodelling the Philippine economy -- and she is taking inspiration from the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan.

The Buddhist kingdom famously pursues an economic development model of "Gross National Happiness", which aims to balance spiritual and material wealth while taking into account the value of the environment and culture.

"I love the Bhutan model," Lopez said.

"They know if they kill their air, they kill their water, they will never ever be happy. And I find that quite enlightened."

Lopez dreams of a Philippines in which its rich biodiversity is capitalised on.

"We have barely begun to scratch the surface of what our country can offer the world," she said, citing sea sponges, shells and fruit she claimed could cure cancers.

"And the exciting thing is biodiversity is endemic. It is specific and exclusive to the Philippines. That sounds like a really good business deal."

- 'Path of Bliss' -

Lopez has walked an unlikely path to becoming one of the most powerful women in the Philippines.

She belongs to one of the wealthiest families in the country.

But Lopez exchanged a life of luxury as a young lady for one as a yoga missionary with a spiritual organisation founded in India called Ananda Marga, or Path of Bliss.

Lopez spent two decades in Africa, India and Portugal promoting yoga and helping the underprivileged, before returning to the Philippines to raise two children.

Back home Lopez earned a reputation as a passionate advocate for the environment, most notably with the charitable arm of her family's ABS-CBN media empire.

In his inaugural state of the nation address, Duterte described Lopez as a "crusader".

"We share the same paradigm: The interest of the country must come first," he said.

Many people overseas have a dark view of Duterte for waging a ruthless war on crime that has claimed thousands of lives.

Duterte has said he would be "happy to slaughter" three million drug addicts, and Amnesty International has warned he may be overseeing crimes against humanity.

Lopez has a different perspective.

"He's genuine. He's the real thing," she said.

"His love of people, his courage, his humility, it's real. And it's in this dimension that we resonate."

Vietnam to punish officials over mass fish deaths
Hanoi (AFP) Feb 22, 2017
Vietnam said Wednesday it will punish 11 senior officials for misconduct over a toxic waste dump last year that killed tonnes of fish in one of the country's worst environmental disasters. Taiwanese steel firm Formosa was blamed for the crisis that decimated livelihoods in coastal fishing communities in central Vietnam and was forced to pay $500 million in fines. Fishermen and activists ... read more

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