Inspectors must be tougher to end illegal dumping, and the agency was collecting data on the efficacy of punishments for those who contravene environmental laws, Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) said yesterday.
The Greater Kaohsiung Environmental Protection Bureau last week reported that electroplating firms Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE) and Lian-yi Industrial Co dumped toxic wastewater into the Houjin River (後勁溪), while local officials said that eight to 10 electroplating companies had been discharging heavy metal wastewater into irrigation channels in Changhua County.
Shen said that the punishments meted out to firms violating environmental laws are usually not completely enforced, resulting in the violators continuing to break the law.
The agency will send data on past inspections and punishments to its ethics department, which will determine if its inspectors or officials are responsible for the inadequate punishments, Shen said.
Records show that from 2011 to last month, the Greater Kaohsiung Government found ASE guilty of 18 violations, while the EPA’s Bureau of Environmental Inspection had cited the firm five times, but ASE has only been fined the maximum of NT$600,000 (US$20,000) twice, he said.
Shen said that his experience as head of the EPA’s Environmental Analysis Laboratory taught him that inspectors rarely enter companies’ facilities to check the operation of and records on their sewage systems, while the officials in charge of enforcing disciplinary measures only look at water quality test results to see if improvements have been made.
Many companies are willing to risk violating regulations because they figure that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of getting caught, he said.
This was why the Administrative Penalty Act (行政罰法) was introduced in 2008, so that the administration and local bureaus could requisition “illegal gains” from violators, he said.
Shen said the EPA has fined violators in 28 cases a total of NT$850 million and collected NT$375 million so far, while local governments only imposed NT$144 million in fines for four cases, showing they are not being tough enough.