Environmental campaigners yesterday rallied in front of the Yunlin County Government building to protest against what they said was the local government’s “indifference” to public health after it last week allowed two coal-fired power plants owned by Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) to continue burning bituminous coal until 2017.
At the rally, Robert Lin (林春強), an academic contracted by the county government and serving on a committee monitoring operations at the FPG-owned sixth naphtha cracker complex — where the plants are situated — announced his resignation and tore up his contract.
Lin, enlisted by former Yunlin County commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), said that his contract is valid until the end of the year, but that county government officials had not once met with committee members to seek their opinion on the permits since Yunlin County Commissioner Lee Chin-yung (李進勇) assumed office more than seven months ago.
Instead, Lee’s administration has assembled an opaque “counseling committee” that allegedly held several closed-door meetings with FPG regarding the permits, he said.
He said that Lee is not serious about banning the use of soft coal and petroleum coke, which was outlawed by a bylaw passed by the county council last month.
The commissioner has rejected Lin’s advice that he deny FPG the permits by exercising his administrative power and insisted on resolving the matter by starting a legal battle with the central government over the legitimacy of the bylaw.
The Executive Yuan and the Environmental Protection Administration have spoken out against the bylaw, saying that it contradicts the power of central government.
“By the time the verdict is handed down, Lee’s term as commissioner will have ended,” Lin said.
He said that instead of using his authority to reject the firm’s application, Lee used it to push back the deadline for ceasing to burn soft coal at the cost of public health.
Furthermore, county government officials who attended meetings to review FPG’s application to extend the permits ignored his suggestion that coal being consumed in the complex be replaced with more environmentally friendly anthracite, which has a high coal content, but low impurities, Lin said.
He also questioned whether there is any connection between the county government agreeing to extend the permits and a NT$240 million (US$7.7 million) road maintenance fund, which FPG reportedly promised the county government on Friday last week, just two days after the government approved the permits.
Lin said that Su, similarly, obtained funding from FPG to promote agricultural safety, which led the Control Yuan to issue a corrective measure against the county government over possible connivance with the firm.
“Can you [Lee] still dutifully monitor the sixth naphtha cracker after accepting cash from FPG?” Lin asked.
In response, the county government said that the road maintenance fund had been set up by FPG in 2010 and that it had nothing to do with the permit extensions.
The county government would strictly monitor emissions from the naphtha cracker complex by monitoring the amount of coal consumed, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, sulfur content and particulates of less than 2.5 micrometers at the power plants, it said.
Lin was the second academic, after former county environmental protection adviser Chang Tzu-chien (張子見), enlisted by the county government to have resigned in protest over the extension of the permits.
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