Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 8 News List

SEAs need a boost for policies to be effective

By Wang Yu-Cheng 王毓正

Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) unveiled his policies to the media on May 19. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also vowed to make all policies environmentally friendly at the opening ceremony of an annual NGO environmental conference on May 31.

After two weeks in power, the government leaders’ emphasis on domestic environmental protection is praiseworthy. Still, I have a few suggestions.

Shen said that, in the first six months of the administration, the EPA would push for 12 pieces of legislation, including an energy tax act, a greenhouse gas reduction act and a renewable energy development act.

However, the energy tax act and the renewable energy development act lie beyond the EPA’s authority. Because of the distribution of authority and responsibilities, the EPA is not likely to be able to push for these bills as it wishes without taking into consideration the position of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The 12 suggested drafts will merely be of symbolic value unless the different ministries can reach a consensus soon.

Passing the greenhouse gas reduction act would not be difficult given the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legislative majority. However, the necessary legal framework for the proposed reduction act, which aims to set a time limit on reductions, is lacking. It should therefore be withdrawn and redrafted.

Furthermore, Shen has indicated that the future focus of policy will be on replacing orders and controls with economic incentives. However, any sort of economic incentive should be based on investigation into and understanding of pollution. Economic incentives are fine, but when regulations are broken and the environment is damaged, appropriate legal action should be taken.

Therefore, economic incentives cannot just be replaced by regulations; instead, economic incentives should be used to supplement regulations.

Shen should not overestimate the effects of economic incentives. Fees that are charged for air pollution control and recycling, clearance and treatment are all economic tools based on price restrictions. However, despite the hundreds of millions of NT dollars in fees levied each year, we have never been informed what tangible benefits these economic tools have for our environment.

Shen also stated that the debate surrounding the Suhua Freeway is not about the road itself, but more about the changes in the type of development Hualien will experience after it is completed. However, the debate should not merely be about whether the freeway will have a large impact on the environment, but also whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should have been carried out when the idea was first proposed.

Ma’s environmentally friendly policies are not new and the correct term for such policies is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Treaty of Maastricht, for example, states that the formulation and execution of all EU policies must be based on the principle of environmental protection.

A similar principle is mentioned in Article 26 of Taiwan’s Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法) that requires EIAs on policies that may affect the environment.

However, the evaluation of the SEA system is only an internal evaluation carried out by the government and at times involves the Cabinet examining and approving its own policies. Thus, all of Taiwan’s SEAs since 2000 have been flawed.

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