Sat, Oct 27, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Redefining EIA committee’s power

By Yu Cheng-yuan 游成淵

Oct. 8 saw a major U-turn in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of CPC Corp, Taiwan’s plan to build a third liquefied natural gas terminal at Guantang Industrial Park (觀塘工業區) in Taoyuan.

During its initial evaluation, the EIA review committee recommended withholding approval of the project, but now it has approved it. In the meantime, several committee meetings leading up to the approval were aborted because a boycott by expert committee members made them inquorate.

There have been constant arguments between supporters and opponents of the project. On the day the project was approved, then-Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) deputy minister Chan Shun-kuei (詹順貴) resigned in protest against the demands that the Cabinet had been making of him. These events have drawn widespread attention public attention to the case.

Similar circumstances surrounded the EIA for the planned construction of a new coal-fired Shenao Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳), which took place a few months ago.

There were also constant arguments while that case was being reviewed, and after the project was eventually approved by a majority of one vote, the EPA came under heavy criticism from various sources.

Why are EIA review committees’ conclusions so important that the contending parties struggle to secure each and every vote?

The key reason is the system that gives EIA review committees the power to veto projects they review.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法), which has been in force since 1995, is modeled on US environmental law.

However, it incorporates a system that does not exist in other advanced countries, namely that the authorities are not allowed to give a project the go-ahead if there is no completed and approved EIA or the EIA review committee decides against it.

If the authorities do approve it, their approval is invalid. This means that EIA committees have the power to veto the government’s and businesses’ plans alike. If an EIA committee decides not to approve a project, the project cannot go ahead.

In the early days, courts took the view that EIA review committees’ conclusions were not independent administrative actions, but merely a reference point for the competent industrial authority — that is, the authority governing the relevant sector— when deciding whether to approve a project.

Consequently, stakeholders could not take legal action to demand the annulment of EIA results.

However, starting with a 2003 garbage incinerator construction project in Yunlin County’s Linnei Township (林內), courts began to recognize EIA review results as administrative actions. This meant that stakeholders could indeed take legal action to demand the quashing of EIA review results.

Opponents of a project could already actively participate in its EIA review, where they can use aggressive language and actions to obstruct meetings. They can also use media, rallies, marches and other means to put pressure on review committee members to vote against the project.

Since the 2003 case, if the project is still approved, its opponents can extend the battlefield into the realm of judicial proceedings by taking legal action to annul the conclusion of the EIA review.

By these methods, they can delay implementation of a project and reduce the efficiency of the review, thus clouding projects in uncertainty.

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