The state-owned Chinese Petroleum Corporation (CPC) yesterday received a conditional go-ahead from the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to renovate its third naphtha cracker in Kaohsiung County’s Linyuan Township (林園鄉), much to the chagrin of environmentalists, who accused the EPA of deciding on the matter before the review began.
The plant was built in 1974 and began an environmental impact assessment (EIA) process for its renewal proposal in 2005. Yesterday’s decision was a complete turn-around from a ruling in October in which the EIA panel returned the case to its case committee, saying that if CPC still wanted to begin the project, it needed to go through a new EIA.
Before yesterday’s EIA meeting began, dozens of environmentalists opposing the project gathered in front of the EPA to call on EIA panelists to “be fair and unaffected by government pressure to pursue economic prosperity.”
The crowd was separated by the police from hundreds of CPC workers chanting slogans and songs, including Why? and “Workers Unite for Victory,” urging EIA members to help sustain their jobs and improve their work environment, “especially in the state of the current global economy.”
According to the ruling, CPC can begin the renewal, a NT$6.5 billion (US$196 million) project, next year and build a new factory that will triple the production of the old facility — from 230,000 tonnes of polystyrene a year to up to 800,000 tonnes.
CPC promised that the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions will be reduced from the 2,345 tonnes a year now to 2,200 tonnes at the new plant, a 10 percent reduction.
However, the EIA panel also mandated several conditions for CPC before it could start construction, including promising to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 54 percent, and planting trees to neutralize the remaining emissions so that the total reduction would be at least 60 percent.
The EIA additionally demanded CPC conduct an epidemiological investigation as well as conduct a health risk evaluation for local residents.
In response to the decision, Mercy on the Earth director Lee Ken-cheng (李根政) said: “The case could have set an example for all renewal projects in the Petroleum Chemical Industry, as many of the factories like the third naphtha cracker were built in the 1970s.”
However, Lee said that the EIA process for the case had a “fundamental procedural problem.”
“On Oct. 8, the EIA panel rejected the proposal, but promised CPC that once it entered a new case committee review process, the proposal would be sent to the EIA panel again within two months — that is essentially agreeing to the project before it was even reviewed,” Lee said.
Lee said that by setting a time frame for the case committee to complete the process and by sending the case to the EIA panel, “Any case would be able to get a conditional okay.”
In addition, Lee said the EIA conditions were not written “professionally enough.”
First, as air pollution in the greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung area is already severe, “If there is a renewal, it needs to improve the air quality there.”
“A 10 percent decrease in VOCs is unacceptable and meaningless — it will mean that the same level in the past 30 years will be maintained; instead, the total emissions for the area should be capped,” Lee said.