Amid growing controversy over the environmental impact of mining in eastern Taiwan, lawmakers yesterday accused the Bureau of Mines of colluding with a mining company in renewing the license of its Hualien County quarry, which is in a landslide-prone area and on Aboriginal reserve land.
Tungyi Mining Co has operated a 4.7 hectare quarry in Hsiulin Township (秀林) since 1973, but most of the quarry is on Aboriginal reserve land, as is an Asia Cement plant in the township, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsu Chih-chieh (許智傑) told a news conference in Taipei.
The quarry was buried in 2012 by landslides triggered by Typhoon Saola, but despite its geologically and culturally sensitive location, the bureau in 2015 renewed Tungyi’s mining permit for 10 more years, Hsu said.
The Mining Act (礦業法) states that mining should be prohibited in areas where the operation would endanger public safety, but the bureau allowed Tungyi to continue operations, Hsu said.
Tungyi in February filed an application to develop a new site, but the bureau rejected the request, citing public safety concerns about landslides.
However, the bureau did not take landslides into consideration when it renewed Tungyi’s license in 2015, Hsu said.
“The bureau should withdraw the renewal on the grounds of public safety. Prosecutors and the Control Yuan should launch an investigation into the bureau’s double standards,” Hsu said.
The lawmaker also accused bureau Director Chu Ming-chao (朱明昭) of colluding with Tungyi’s owner, Tsai Sui (蔡穗), over the license renewal.
Tsai is the honorary director of the Mining Association of the Republic of China, and Chu is a standing director of the group.
Tsai is also the chairman of an environmental consulting firm that specializes in assisting cement companies in environmental reviews, and Hsu questioned whether there might be a conflict of interest between Tsai’s roles as a developer and an environmental consultant.
Chu, who has headed the bureau for 20 years, applied for early retirement following the death of filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) on June 10, which helped raised public awareness of environmentally unsustainable mining practices.
DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) criticized the timing of Chu’s retirement, which is to take effect at the end of this week, as an attempt to dodge responsibility for approving environmentally unsustainable mining practices.
To protect the environment and achieve transitional justice, the DPP wants to amend the Mining Act to remove provisions that prioritize the interest of mining companies over environmental and Aboriginal interests, Gao added.
Bureau Deputy Director Chou Kuo-tung (周國棟) said Tungyi’s renewal application was approved because the quarry was not affected by landslides.
However, photographs shown by the legislators appear to contradict Chou’s statement.
The bureau has conducted renewal reviews legally and independently without external influence, Chou said.
Chu’s retirement plan is a personal matter, Chou added.
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