EARTH Thailand

Mae Mo battle ends in win for villagers: Court tells Egat to pay damages for pollution


The long-running Mae Mo power plant battle has ended in victory for 477 Lampang villagers after the Administrative Court ordered the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to pay them compensation.

The Chiang Mai court's order offers the villagers differing amounts depending on the severity of the pollution they were exposed to from the coal-fired plant.

The villagers have complained about sulphur dioxide emissions from the Egat plant in the Lampang district for years.

The court yesterday said many were eligible for 246,900 baht based on the "physical and metal deterioration" of the villagers.

Toxic emissions from the plant have polluted nearby villages since 1992.

Many residents have suffered respiratory problems and at least 20 people have died.

Villagers accused Egat, a state enterprise under the Energy Ministry, of ignoring their complaints.

Their legal battle has been going on for five years. In their petition lodged with the Administrative Court, the villagers demanded 1.08 billion baht in damages and the closure of the plant.

The head of Egat's legal team, Yongchai Inlertfa, yesterday said Egat had 30 days to lodge an appeal against yesterday's ruling and would look at the verdict before making a decision.

Wirat Kanjanapibul, Egat deputy governor for environment and social affairs, said in a press statement the amount of sulphur dioxide released from the power plant had never exceeded the limit.

Judge Pornchai Manassiripen ordered Egat to relocate the villagers to safer areas and work on reforestation to restore the environment.

The agency is relocating about 1,000 villagers to Ban Huay Rak Mai in tambon Sop Prap in Mae Mo district. The relocation, which began last year, will cost Egat at least 500 million baht.

It has also outlaid a large amount of money on improving the power plant's image, including installing devices to trap sulphur dioxide and the establishment of a community development fund.

Egat deputy governor Virach Karnjanapiboon said the state enterprise respected the verdict and would consult prosecutors on how to proceed. He said Egat was serious about conserving the environment.

Mr Virach said Egat fully acknowledged the pollution problems and was trying to tackle them by cutting power output, switching fuel from lignite to diesel oil and initiating a massive outlay to instal desulphurisation units in the power generators.

Since the desulphurisation units became operational in 1997, air quality around the plant had improved, he said.