The government is to review the role of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in environmental impact assessments of investment projects, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) said yesterday.
The announcement came in the wake of recent rulings by the EPA that were not favorable to the proposed expansion of a Formosa Petrochemical Corp (台塑石化) plant in Yunlin County.
The current system under which the EPA is mandated to reject an investment project due to environmental concerns “is not in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法),” Chen told Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wu Yu-jen (吳育仁) at a question-and-answer session at the legislature yesterday.
Article 1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act says that the legislation is aimed at “preventing” and “mitigating” the adverse impact of development activity on the environment, rather than to “eradicate” development projects, Chen said.
A recent EPA ruling rejected an appeal by Formosa Petrochemical Corp against the agency’s previous decision that volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions generated from non-manufacturing activities at Formosa Plastics’ naphtha cracker in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) are sources of pollutants subject to VOC limits.
Dissatisfied with the EPA’s decision, Wu questioned the appropriateness of the role of the EPA in policy decisions about the nation’s industrial development. In this case, of the 21 members of the environmental impact assessment committee, “eight are not specialists in air pollution problems,” Wu said. “When they lack professionalism in the area, how can we expect them to make a correct decision?”
In response, Chen said the Cabinet would conduct a review of the environmental impact assessment system next month.
“The review is already on the agenda,” Chen said.
Previously, EPA Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) suggested that the agency be stripped of its veto over investment projects and that environmental impact assessments of projects should be conducted by the agency that regulates the related industry.
Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) yesterday criticized Chen during a question-and-answer session over Cabinet policies that “pursue strategies of labor-cost reduction” as incentives to attract investment. These include postponing an increase in the minimum wage and allowing more recruitment of foreign workers, Cheng said.
The Cabinet’s strategies to drive the nation’s economic growth at the expense of cheap labor would not push industries to upgrade and transform themselves to high value-added manufacturing and would perpetuate the stagnation of wages, she said.
KMT Legislator Wong Chung-chun (翁重鈞) asked Chen to veto a plan proposed by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) that would cut the subsidy for fallow land in half, from NT$90,000 (US$3,071) a year to NT$45,000.
Wong said he applauded the plan to activate fallow land, but added that the council should propose alternatives for using the land without reducing the benefits of elderly farmers.