A huge fire that broke out at the Formosa Plastics Group-owned Naphtha Cracker plant in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮) appears to have left a burning aftertaste for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which said yesterday it would not likely support further expansion for the industry if it were to regain power in 2012.
Production was partly halted at the 1,680 hectare complex after a fire broke out at a pollution treatment facility on Sunday night. Experts believe the fire, which sent heavy plumes of black smoke into the sky, will likely exacerbate health problems for local residents who are already said to be suffering from a noticeable increase in cancer-like symptoms over the past few years.
Traveling to the area yesterday morning, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the incident highlighted problems with the country’s continued dependence on the high-polluting petrochemical industry, adding that the government should take a second look at plans to expand the complex.
She met with farmers, who took her to see mounds of blackened earth that they said was once fertile soil, but had since been contaminated by the facility’s dangerous chemicals, which polluted the atmosphere following the heavy fire.
DPP spokesperson Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said the party recognized that Taiwan’s economic development should no longer depend on expansion of the petrochemical industry.
“We will not interfere with [plants that are] already operating ... but the DPP will not develop this industry further if we regain power,” he said.
As an alternative, he said Taiwan should make new inroads into the renewable energy sector, calling it the next step for a country that is severely limited in natural resources and arable land.
The remarks signal a change of position for the DPP, as it previously supported the construction of another petrochemical plant.
Acknowledging this shift, Tsai Ing-wen said: “It shows that the DPP is a political party capable of reflection. All we are doing is returning to the roots of our party — putting environmental protection and living standards first.”
In 2005, the then-DPP administration pushed for construction of another Naphtha Cracker plant that would be located in Changhua County. The NT$400 billion (US$12.5 billion) proposal is pending approval from an environmental impact assessment.
If approved, the complex will likely create up to 5,000 jobs in the region, but environmental scientists have said that the complex could cause an increase in health problems among area residents.
Worrying signs of the industry’s environmental impact have caused alarm among county commissioners. Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chi-fen (蘇治芬) of the DPP traveled to Taipei City yesterday to meet with DPP officials, asking for their support to block future construction proposals.
At a separate setting yesterday, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chang Chia-chun (張嘉郡) proposed amending the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法) to oblige polluting enterprises to give 20 percent of their income tax and 30 percent of their commodity tax directly to cities and counties where their factories are located.
Joined by village chiefs from Mailiao Township at a KMT caucus press conference after meeting Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) earlier yesterday, Chang said petrochemical plants did not necessarily bring economic prosperity to local residents, but often caused pollution.
Chang said giving part of the enterprises’ income and commodity taxes directly to local governments could help make operation of the companies more acceptable to the people.
Chang, elected in Yunlin, also demanded that the central government establish an emergency response center at Mailiao to help residents evacuate “should any accidents occur.”
Mailiao Township chief Lin Sung-li (林松利) urged the company to propose plans to compensate township farmers. He also called on the central government to send “credible environmental protection groups” to monitor and investigate the water and air quality of the township.
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