Although it has been almost one year since President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration took office, there have been no signs of improvement in the nation’s air quality — if anything, it has gotten worse.
Air pollution not only causes great pain and stress to people in their daily lives, it causes disease and economic losses and is as such a major public health and national security concern.
In response to public expectations, the Cabinet on Thursday last week announced that it is to spend NT$36.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) over three years on measures aimed at reducing air pollution. These include phasing out aging and polluting vehicles and reducing boiler emissions in order to reduce levels of PM2.5 — fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less — and improve air quality.
However, the plan says nothing about phasing out coal-fired power plants. That means the Cabinet’s plan will not be effective and could even be seen as a deliberate attempt to deceive the public.
There is broad international consensus that coal-fired power plants should be phased out by 2030 and the use of natural gas and petroleum should be limited to reach a zero increase in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
Without banning coal-fired power plants, the government’s new program is doomed to fail and air quality in central and south Taiwan will deteriorate.
The plan to phase out two-stroke scooters is also a misdirected approach, because emissions and total distance traveled on such scooters are not very high. Replacing two-stroke engines with four-stroke engines would only replace high pollution with medium pollution vehicles. It is still pollution and not a policy to prevent pollution.
To effectively stop pollution caused by scooters, the government must pass laws that require people to choose electric scooters with zero emissions and low noise pollution.
To control air pollution around Kaohsiung and Pingtung, the Environmental Protection Administration said it would phase out 500,000 two-stroke scooters and old diesel cars. However, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) plans to build another factory in Kaohsiung.
This is clearly an unscientific and dishonest policy. While two-stroke scooters emit carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon as a result of their imperfect combustion, coal-fired power plants emit sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide during combustion. The latter is the main cause of Kaohsiung’s high PM2.5 levels.
Exchanging the emission of one pollutant for that of another would by no means improve the city’s air quality. If TSMC’s new plant uses power generated by the city’s Talin coal-fired power plant, the PM2.5 and ozone pollution in southern areas would only deteriorate further.
Tsai’s administration is willing to expand the number of coal-fired power plants in the nation on the grounds that it would not be possible to transition to a nuclear-free homeland if there are power shortages.
Corporations that depend heavily on coal-fired power plants and groups that benefit from them also use the threat of a power shortage as an excuse to resist change and continue to destroy the environment.
However, the nation has never had a problem with power shortages. If we use natural gas for power generation during peak hours while saving electricity, there is an ample power supply. The problem is wasteful use, not insufficient supply.
To stop air pollution from continuing to damage the public’s health, the government must put an end to coal-fired power plants and transition to natural gas and “green” energy alternatives.
Chan Chang-chuan is associate dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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