Sun, Jun 18, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Taiwan needs people like Chi Po-lin

Environmental campaigners take to the streets in protest almost daily, but few pay them any heed — people have become desensitized. The government is rarely willing to act in defiance of lobbyists and economic interests; it is only willing to do so when public protest is too strong to be ignored. This is why passionate environmentalists who rouse public interest are so important if we are to protect our living environment.

Aerial photographs taken by late documentary film director Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) that showed destructive mining activities in Hualien inspired more than 150,000 people to sign a petition. The government was forced to act, resolving on Wednesday to amend the Mining Act (礦業法) to require mine operators to undergo renewed environmental impact assessments. However, most environmental protests in the nation fail to achieve this level of success, largely because they fail to capture public interest.

In November last year, members of Citizens of the Earth, Taiwan and other civic groups protested against construction at an agricultural park in Kaohsiung’s Sinyuan Township (新園), saying the work was destroying 4,000-year-old Dabenkeng (大坌坑) cultural deposits.

City inspectors told protesters they found no evidence of damage to the site, despite protesters saying they had evidence to the contrary.

In March, protests against construction on agricultural land in Changhua County were ignored, with protesters on March 28 saying that construction continued despite promises of action by the Executive Yuan. Photographs showed new factories being built in the county’s Lugang (鹿港) and Luan (鹿安) townships.

On Sunday last week, Anti-Air Pollution Alliance members marched in Yunlin County’s Douliou City (斗六), urging the county government not to renew permits for Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s coal-fired power plants.

The government renewed all 12 permits, but signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the company, pledging to convert three of the coal-fired power generators into gas-fired facilities by 2025.

Alliance director Yeh Guang-peng (葉光芃) questioned the MOU’s effectiveness and said converting the plants should not take eight years.

Yunlin Environmental Protection Bureau Director Lin Chang-tsao (林長造) said the county needed the support from the central government.

Whether unwilling to act out of concern over upsetting lobbyists or due to a lack of cooperation between departments, the government is unlikely to act on environmental protests unless they have significant public support.

Companies in Taiwan tend to claim “negligence” when caught violating environmental regulations — an offense for which they are not heavily penalized.

Authorities generally do not push the issue further unless there is a public uproar.

A pollution case in which Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc was found dumping nickel-laced effluent into Kaohsiung’s Houjin River (後勁溪) in 2013 could not be ignored by prosecutors after it drew the attention of 50 environmental non-governmental organizations in 18 nations.

The city government said last week that it would re-examine the evidence and impose higher penalties.

However, while the majority of cases are unlikely to garner such international support, at the very least this month’s amendments to the Mining Act show that public pressure can push the government to act in the interest of environmental protection.

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