Asia Cement Corp (亞泥) yesterday denied that it has been expanding mining operations in Hualien County.
“We have been conducting a large-scale afforestation project in the region for several years and the efforts have begun to bear fruit,” the company, one of the biggest cement makers in the nation, said in a statement.
The comments came after the death on Saturday of documentary filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) in a helicopter crash, which raised public questions about the scope of the firm’s mining operations in Hualien because of his footage.
Asia Cement has been mining in eastern Taiwan for 60 years. Its mine once extended 25 hectares into Taroko National Park, but it said it reduced its mining area in the park at the end of last year.
Asia Cement is a unit of Far Eastern Group (遠東集團), which also operates Far Eastern Department Stores Co (遠東百貨) and textile maker Far Eastern New Century Corp (遠東新世紀).
The Ministry of Economic Affairs in March approved an extension of Asia Cement’s mining rights in Sincheng Township (新城) by 20 years, allowing it to bypass an environmental impact assessment.
“The ministry has completed the draft amendment to the Mining Act (礦業法) and would require outdated projects to pass environmental impact assessments in the future,” Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) said yesterday.
The ministry is to discuss related details with the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), Shen said, without providing a timetable.
The Department of Mines said in a statement that the nation’s cement supply chains might be affected if Asia Cement halts production at its Hualien plant.
The Hualien plant contributes nearly 29 percent of Taiwan’s total cement production, it said.
In late March, Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan, initiated a petition to abolish the extension of mining rights, which collected about 42,000 signatures until the first week of this month.
After Chi’s lastest aerial photograph of the company’s activity was revealed on Saturday, about 40,000 signatures were added to the petition over the weekend, bringing the total number of signatures to 87,867 as of 8:30pm last night, foundation researcher Pan Cheng-cheng (潘正正) said.
Once the petition has 100,000 signatures, the foundation will deliver it to authorities and press them to re-examine the company’s mining permit, Pan said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said on Facebook yesterday that the EPA should ask the company to conduct a new environmental impact analysis and submit response strategies, based on Article 28 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法).
Pan said a new analysis might change the firm’s mining scope, but added that “it would be a difficult decision for the EPA.”
The EPA had not responded to Lin’s call as of press time last night.
Additional reporting by Ines Lin
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