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Pollution in Paradise: Coal Plant Threatens Borneo

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It's not just the beaches in Louisiana that are at risk because of dirty energy.

Right now, in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, locals are in a David vs. Goliath fight against a 300 MW coal fired power plant. The proposed site for the plant? A pristine strip of beach on the edge of a rainforest that overlooks the Coral Triangle, one of the world's most bio-diverse marine environments.

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There hasn't been a worse spot to build a power plant since the infamous Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos tried to build a nuclear plant next to an earthquake faultline at the base of a volcano in the 1980s.

If the coal plant is built, it will have a devastating effect on Borneo's environment and local communities.

The surrounding rainforest is home to several endangered species, including elephants, orangutans, and the world's 40 remaining Bornean rhinos. Sulfur dioxide pollution and acid rain could damage this pristine ecosystem, while transmission lines threaten to cut directly through the rainforest.

Discharges of chlorine and sulfates from the plant threaten life in the ocean, as well. The Coral Triangle just off the cost of Borneo is home to 75% of the known species of corals and is a key natural resource for local fishing communities. Those communities may also be forced off their land by the construction of the plant. You can hear their perspective in this video:

Right now, locals are teaming up with a growing coalition of groups under the banner of SOS Borneo to try and stop the plant. This spring, organizations in Borneo teamed up with the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California Berkeley to publish a report that shows how the island could fulfill its energy needs with clean, renewable energy.

Dan Kammen, RAEL director and a senior clean energy adviser to President Obama during his election campaign, said,

We found that energy efficiency, biofuels, hydropower, and geothermal provide immediate advantages for the region over fossil fuels, and that in time both solar and ocean energy could provide even more energy than coal, while building jobs and a clean environment.

Despite the research, local activists face a tough, up hill battle. The Malaysian government has already approved the plant and is now trying to expedite construction as opposition grows.

But it's not too late. Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, can still pull the plug on the plant and emerge as a champion for clean energy and sustainable development.

SOS Borneo needs your help to focus the international spotlight on Borneo. Click here to sign a petition to stop the plant that will be delivered to the Malaysian Prime Minister.

Stopping this coal plant is about more than protecting one strip of beach, it's a symbol of a global fight to protect our increasingly fragile planet against the onslaught of dirty energy - from the island of Borneo to the Gulf of Mexico.

For more information on the proposed coal plant, check out the great coverage at Mongabay.com.

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