Mon, Sep 29, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Environmental activists criticize lax laws

ENSURE RIGHTS Environmentalists say it is imperative that the government revise certain laws in order to guarantee the public is protected against harmful projects

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Recent discussions pertaining to legislation surrounding the nation's first referendum law have prompted environmentalists to urge the government to have lax laws revised in order to ensure people's environmental rights.

One of the most controversial laws criticized by activists for its failure to prevent foreseeable environmental deterioration is the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (EIA Act, 環境影響評估法). The lack of public participation and access to information provisions have been attributed to protests emerging in an endless stream, activists said.

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) came under fire last week after its head, Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), suggested that a public development project, whose EIA had already been passed, should be exempted from the application of a proposed referendum law currently drafted by the Cabinet.

Hau was immediately bashed by both legislators and environmentalists. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislators on Thursday pointed out that Hau, the only Cabinet-level agency chief with pan-blue leanings, was expressing a view opposing the DPP-dominant Cabinet.

According to Hau, the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be completed anyway, because its EIA had been passed in the early 1990s.

DPP Legislator Eugene Jao (趙永清) said the construction of the plant needed to be inspected for environmental impact.

"In the last few years, we've seen the loss of sand on the beach near the plant's wharf. Why was the problem not addressed by the EIA committee?" Jao asked.

In addition, Jao said the capacity for each power-generating unit has been boosted to 1,350 megawatt from 1,000 megawatt by its builder, Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), which did not redo an EIA.

"It's time for us to emulate European people, such as the Germans, who voted to shut down operational nuclear power plants," Jao said.

The EIA system was first utilized by the US in the early 1970s. It soon influenced advanced countries in Europe, as well as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Japan. Developing countries in Asia did not begin to promote the EIA system until the 1980s. In Taiwan, after spending a decade preparing a draft for the legislature, the government enacted the EIA Act at the end of 1994.

"It's quite sad that the lax law helps process controversial development projects pertaining to industrial complexes, reservoirs and others," said Eric Liou (劉銘龍), secretary-general of the Taipei-based Environmental Quality Protection Foundation.

Liou said that other examples illustrating sloppy EIAs include two conflicting national projects -- Tainan Science Park and the nation's first high-speed railroad.

The National Science Council (NSC) selected Tainan as the site for Taiwan's second science park in 1994, two years after the Ministry of Transportation and Communications had designated a route for the rail project running through the site. Both EIAs gave project proponents the green light. To date, vibrations caused by the passage of bullet trains remain a minus in the park's attraction to high-tech firms. The invitation for bids for construction pertaining to vibration reduction will be completed in March next year.

In addition, activists said that the lax law gave dishonest developers space to dodge their responsibilities.

Chen Jian-zhi (陳建志), director of the waste policy committee of the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, said scoping out regulations for diverse development projects become tools used by project proponents to avoid processing EIAs.

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