Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Sheng’s (沈世宏) criticism of environmental activists and civic groups who oppose the Miramar Resort Hotel construction project in Taitung County as “peripheral organizations” of the opposition camp has compromised grassroots efforts to protect the environment and highlighted the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration’s passiveness in handling environmental issues.
Sheng presented a report on EPA policies to the KMT Central Standing Committee on Wednesday, in which he defended the legality of the project in Taitung’s Shanyuan Bay (杉原灣) despite a Supreme Administrative Court order last month for the resort to cease operation. He accused the environmental activists of holding contradictory stances on such projects, as they called for the demolition of the Miramar Resort, but opposed tearing down the Yoho Beach Resort in Pingtung County’s Kenting National Park, even though both hotels were found to have been built illegally.
“Those so-called human rights activists, artists and environmental activists are actually peripheral organizations in politics,” he said.
The accusations are deeply troubling on many levels. Sheng blamed the controversies on the environmental groups and treated them as the enemy when, as the nation’s top environmental officer, he should be working with them to defend the land.
His comments further revealed the arrogance of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, which dismissed environmental activists’ long-term efforts and their knowledge of the projects.
The Miramar Resort in Taitung County, a project that began construction in 2005, has faced continuous opposition from environmental groups and local residents over its impact on the beach and local environment. While the Taitung County Government pushed through an environmental impact assessment approval to defend the legitimacy of the project, civil groups won a lawsuit against the assessment process and the Supreme Administrative Court last month issued a final ruling that the project must be halted.
The Yoho Beach Resort was found to have been operating for 14 years without approval by an impact assessment after a news outlet ran a story on the issue in May. That prompted Sheng to order the resort to suspend operations and ask the Pingtung County Government to conduct an assessment on the resort.
The two projects have violated environmental regulations and avoided impact assessment reviews. Sheng’s defense of the Miramar Resort is what is contradictory.
Several environmental groups have dismissed Sheng’s accusations as groundless and said environmentalists questioned the legitimacy of the two projects without backing either one. They urged the authorities to deal with the issues to protect the environment.
Whatever stances civil groups have on the projects, Sheng and the EPA should take a proactive approach in working with local authorities to demand that the resorts comply with the assessment process. If any circumvention of the law is found, the EPA must suspend the project and demolish the buildings.
The environmental activists and civil groups have no authority to take action against illegal operations. Their job is to raise public awareness on environmental protection, to protest against illegal construction projects and to demand action from the government.
Environmental protection is a crucial public issue that affects everyone’s lives. Nobody who expresses concern about our environment is part of “peripheral organizations.”
Sheng needs to stop shifting the blame for the EPA’s inaction, uphold efforts aimed at protecting the land from being exploited by those who seek political or financial gain, and stop obstructing grassroots efforts to protect the environment.