Environmental protection should not be blamed for holding back economic development, environmental activists said yesterday as they urged the government to reflect on its failure to revive the economy.
In a skit mocking government policy, three activists wearing masks of Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang (施顏祥), National Science Council Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) and Vice Premier Jiang Yi-hua (江宜樺) used flyswatters to hit an activist wearing a mask of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in the face, saying they were just formulating policies in accord with the president’s slogan on “saving the nation through environmental protection.”
The activists voiced concern about the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) suggestion that environmental impact assessments (EIA) be handed over to industry authorities.
In September, the EPA’s Environmental Impact Assessment Committee upheld a decision to limit allowable volatile organic compound emissions from Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s naphtha cracker in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮).
When Shih expressed concern that the committee’s decision might affect investors’ willingness to invest in Taiwan, EPA Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) suggested that the EPA’s responsibility for reviewing construction projects by conducting an EIA be handed over to relevant industry authorities that grant development permits.
Jiang had gathered officials to discuss whether EIAs should be handed over to industry authorities last week, Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) of the Green Party Taiwan said, and the EIA process is increasingly being controlled by political powers.
Taiwan Environmental Protection Union deputy secretary-general Lee Hsiu-jung (李秀容) said that as the highest government authority in charge of looking after the nation’s environment, the EPA should not give up its right to hold EIA meetings so easily.
“The government is 200 percent, 300 percent incompetent, but it blames every problem on environmental protection,” Environmental Jurists Association secretary-general Echo Lin (林仁惠) said.
Lin said the problem does not lie with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法), but with the enforcement of the act, such as the EPA’s unwillingness to use its veto power to safeguard the environment, or having too many government officials as EIA committee members.
“Environmental protection should become a mainstream concept,” she said.
Just as gender equity education committees have been set up in different government agencies, EIA committees should also be established so these government agencies can take environmental impact into consideration when they make development plans.
Representatives from the Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan, said that although EIA decisions are made by industry authorities in some countries like the US, the process requires civil participation and people can seek judicial remedy if the results damage their rights.
The groups said the government should seek ways to upgrade local industries and stop using environmental protection as a scapegoat for its failed economic policies.