Sun, Jun 23, 2019 - Page 6 News List

EIAs marred by conflicts of interest

By Robin Winkler 文魯彬

The Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, a Taiwanese environmental organization, has been taking the government to task for a number of legal issues related to various permits issued to wind farms based on what it alleges are “deeply flawed” environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and other legally required procedures.

Wild at Heart has said that the project — which is one of the world’s largest energy development projects, with investment in the billions of US dollars — is certain to have severe ecological consequences, including the likely extinction of one of the world’s rarest cetaceans, the Taiwanese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis),Taiwan’s only endemic dolphin species.

The so-called “thousand turbine project” (3 gigawatt target for offshore wind by 2025) is just one of many planned infrastructure projects in Taiwan that are officially deemed environmentally sound, despite posing serious risks to the Taiwanese white dolphin, as well as a number of other unassessed or underassessed social and environmental impacts.

For example, construction is being proposed for more fossil-fuel facilities both in newly discovered “suitable” white dolphin habitat in coastal Taoyuan — along the northwestern coast of Taiwan — as well as in the confirmed dolphin habitat around the Taichung harbor.

The Taoyuan habitat is shared with a planned liquefied natural gas facility, as well as being adjacent to the ancient and extremely fragile algal reef that has raised public ire over the “incomplete and incompetent” EIAs, as well charges that the government (including state-owned developers/proponents CPC Corp, Taiwan and Taiwan Power Co) has ignored the relatively recently enacted Coastal Zone Management Act (海岸管理法).

All along Taiwan’s west coast the government has approved plans for other companies to expand petrochemical facilities, power plants, all at the expense of fishers, the Taiwanese white dolphins and countless other long-term inhabitants of the area.

According to marine acoustics and conservation experts, the EIAs that were carried out for the Taiwan coastal wind farms significantly underestimated the impact on this declining population of dolphins (fewer than 70 remain); in fact, no assessment was done on noise impact on their behavior.

In addition, whatever baseline noise data that might exist has not been made public and thus the estimated impacts and mitigation proposed by the developers cannot be independently assessed by third parties.

This is a dangerous trend and it could unravel the biodiversity and ecosystem services given the trophic significance of the Taiwanese white dolphin and the failure to date of the government to adequately address the other major threats to the dolphins, including gill net fisheries, lack of fresh water flow (impacts the dolphins’ prey) and one of the most seriously polluted coastal areas on the planet.

Apparently the government is just going for the investment and ignoring the environment with billions of dollars expected to be invested in the wind farms and other habitat-challenging projects.

While urgent action is needed to ensure that investment decisions account for projects’ real environmental consequences, developers understandably believe that the government’s EIA approval means they can go ahead without worry.

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