Fri, Oct 08, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: EPA’s rubber stamp spells ‘doom’

Residents in Tainan County have good reason to be wary of assurances by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) that toxic waste landfills in their backyard are nothing to be afraid of.

Taiwan has a long history of the economy trumping the environment, but public awareness about the health effects of pollution is growing. People nationwide want a cleaner, safer place to live, and agricultural produce that they don’t have to be afraid of eating.

Former backwaters like Chishang (池上), Taitung County, are becoming tourist attractions with their clean water and pristine rice paddies, and residents can see the money pouring in not only from tourist dollars, but also from agriculture. Therefore, it’s no wonder residents of Longci Township (龍崎), Tainan County, became angry when the EPA and Ocin Environmental Co refused to listen to their demands that an industrial waste management facility not be located in their backyard. A meeting to explain the project to wary residents descended into a violent clash, with residents throwing chairs and overturning tables as they realized their concerns were falling on deaf ears.

The EPA, which is tasked with protecting the environment, should be called the rubber stamp administration, because its main purpose seems to be to initiate dubious environmental assessments for huge corporations that almost always pass. Even if a corporation’s plans don’t pass environmental assessments, like the Erlin Science Park expansion plan, the EPA often gives the green light anyway. If local residents don’t like this, EPA officials then step forward to trumpet the economic benefits an industrial park, naptha cracker or toxic waste landfill will have.

In the case of the Longci landfill, the EPA and Tainan County Government officials touted the NT$60 million (US$1.92 million) that Ocin Environmental would be obligated to provide the government, as well as the 50 or so jobs the landfill would create. However, this doesn’t come close to addressing the concerns of residents, who are convinced that a toxic dump near their homes would damage the environment irreversibly, pollute their water and make food grown in the vicinity poisonous.

The EPA and the corporations engaged in these projects show a shocking level of arrogance when it comes to public concerns about the environment. In the case of Ocin, company officials insisted that the project would go forward despite environmental concerns.

In areas where corporations can’t get the EPA’s rubber stamp, they simply dump toxic sludge, slag and other pollutants illegally. Residents of Dongshan Township (東山), Tainan County, have been fighting Young Yang Environmental Industry Corp for years to get it to stop illegally polluting their environment. They recently brought along evidence to the EPA in Taipei to show that ground water near their homes now has about the same pH value as steel slag, the result of years of illegal dumping that was only publicly exposed by Typhoon Fanapi. However, instead of listening to their concerns and slapping a moratorium on the company’s operations, the EPA simply assured the residents that the groundwater was clean enough to drink and they shouldn’t worry.

It is the ultimate irony that these companies, and the EPA itself, even have the word “environmental” in their names. It’s like the a communist government calling itself democratic and saying it stands up for people’s rights.

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