Wed, Jun 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Clean air is also good for business

By Chien Jien-wen 錢建文

One of the main tasks facing the Legislative Yuan during the current extraordinary legislative session is amending the Air Pollution Control Act (空氣污染防制法). Improving the nation’s air quality is an urgent matter, but there have been concerns that draft amendments will not be as comprehensive as they should be.

A major point of contention is that the draft amendments proposed by the Executive Yuan do not remove a rule that regional total quantity controls require the consent of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The act stipulates that the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) must announce and implement regulations related to total quantity control “in conjunction with” the ministry, but the proposed amendments do not change the wording to state that the agency should “confer with” the ministry.

This might be because the government is worried that protecting the environment will have a negative effect on economic growth, but is there really a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth? Could policy decisions made by the agency to reduce air pollution really cancel out the ministry’s efforts to develop the economy?

To answer these questions, some examples from around the world need to be examined.

In 1990, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed amendments to the Clean Air Act to make it stricter. When these more stringent regulations were enacted, some industries that faced higher pollution prevention and control costs were so unhappy about it that they took the US government to court.

However, a research report published by the US agency said that improvements in air quality resulting from the stricter rules prevented the early deaths of 160,000 adults and 230 children in the US in 2010 alone — not including about 4,300 deaths resulting from ozone pollution.

The rules also reduced the incidence of many illnesses, thus lowering the number of workdays lost to sick leave and increasing productivity, it said.

The report estimated that the economic benefits resulting from the stricter environmental protection rules exceeded the costs by a factor of more than 30.

The WHO this year published a report along similar lines, which said that if the entire world followed the organization’s recommended “road map” for reducing air pollution, it could prevent 5.4 million deaths from this year to 2023 and generate annual net economic benefits of almost US$90 billion by 2023.

The WHO report estimated that the economic benefits would be 16 times greater than the costs involved.

A National Taiwan University College of Public Health study found that more than 6,000 people died in Taiwan in 2014 due to PM2.5 — airborne particles measuring 2.5 micrometers or less.

Based on these findings, if Taiwan could reduce air pollution, it could reduce the burden of pollution-related illnesses and the resulting loss of productivity, and create benefits that far outweigh the costs.

If the Air Pollution Control Act is amended to change the words “in conjunction with” to “confer with,” it would mean that the EPA is fully in charge. The aforementioned examples show that if the EPA is allowed to do its job of protecting the environment, the economy would also improve.

Besides, the EPA’s minister would still be appointed by the premier, so why would anyone worry that the agency could hamper the ministry’s efforts?

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