Wed, Aug 25, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Civil society and the fight against the big polluters

By Lee Ken-cheng 李根政

Over the past two years, a series of serious industrial safety and pollution incidents have occurred in Chaoliao (潮寮) village, at the fifth and sixth naphtha cracker plants and at Formosa Plastics Group’s (台塑) Jenwu (仁武) plant. These issues have made people lose confidence in the government’s controls and highlighted the importance of self-help.

The Houchin (後勁) community is one of the areas that has been most affected by the petrochemical industry in Taiwan. It has been 27 years since Houchin residents fought against CPC Corp, Taiwan and its plans to establish a plant in Kaohsiung in 1987. This is one of the most determined communities in Taiwan in terms of fighting pollution. Apart from protests following industrial accidents, they have regularly organized their community to pay experts and academics to investigate air, water, soil and epidemiological issues to use as evidence in their petitioning. They have also monitored the city council to show how the CPC’s Kaohsiung plant is Taiwan’s worst polluting plant. Even so, industrial accidents continue to occur and it is hard to imagine how bad the pollution would be without local community monitoring.

Over the past few days, Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) has been negotiating compensation with Formosa Plastics in the aftermath of the recent explosion at its Mailiao plant. While demanding compensation from polluters is reasonable, cutting pollution is even more important. In the long-term interests of the nation and Yunlin County residents, I make the following suggestions:

The new Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology plant will be located on the north bank of the Jhuoshui River (濁水溪) opposite the sixth naphtha cracker plant. When development is completed, the combined pollution from these two plants will be even worse than current levels. The Ministry of Economic Affairs’ strategic environmental assessment report on the petrochemical industry should, of course, include information on all external costs caused by the petrochemical industry before being submitted to the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee for discussion. Before the environmental assessment is passed, the review of the plant should be suspended.

Second, since the fourth phase of the sixth naphtha cracker plant expansion is environmentally unsound, Formosa Plastics should stop development of the fifth expansion phase and pledge to decrease the emission of air pollutants each year to minimize health risks to residents. It should also promise complete recycling of waste water and zero emissions, and propose a carbon neutral solution based on 68 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The company should also release a list of all the toxins it produces, the volumes produced and their health risks, and release an annual environmental report to ensure that pollution is diminishing.

Third, in terms of damages, environmental restoration, industrial safety and pollution controls, I would suggest that the Yunlin County government and council, civic groups, experts and academics organize a group to carry out open and transparent negotiations with Formosa Plastics. There must be an end to closed-door negotiations with the company.

Yunlin residents must understand that stopping Formosa Plastics Group and making the government implement pollution controls will require strong action and a determined stance against pollution from civil society. County and community leaders should organize residents and invite experts, academics and environmental protection groups to form cooperative groups to establish a truly effective third party monitoring mechanism.

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