Activists say plan a risk to environment

DAMAGING::New policies may be revised following public discussions, but still environmentalists worry that they are designed for the benefit of developers

By Chris Wang and Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporters

Wed, Oct 02, 2013 - Page 4

Environmentalists and legislators yesterday voiced their opposition to the Ministry of the Interior’s draft plan on regional development which would relax regulations on land use, saying these could lead to irreversible damage to the environment.

The draft, titled “National Regional Plan,” is set to be announced next month and would ease restrictions on development in reservoir areas, farmland and active fault zones, among other places, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) told a press conference held jointly with DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇).

The application and review procedures for major projects, including nuclear waste storage sites, nuclear power plants and casinos, would be streamlined in the plan as well, Liu added.

“It’s a pity that the Interior Minister, Lee Hung-yuan (李鴻源), a water conservancy expert, has come up with a plan that could cause large-scale damage to our land,” he said.

Representatives from various environmental groups, among them the Taiwan Academy of Ecology, Taiwan Tree Huggers and Pingtung County Environmental Protection Alliance, also made presentations at the press conference. They said the plan should not be announced without holding public hearings and conducting strategic environmental assessments, saying that deregulation will benefit developers and large corporations.

The draft plan is full of contentious issues, such as the elimination of construction restrictions in active fault zones and granting permissions to develop areas of land under 10 hectares as industrial parks, Taiwan Water Conservation Alliance spokesperson Chen Jiau-hua (陳椒華) said.

Using Google Earth to show central Taiwan’s mountainous areas, Yang Kuoh-cheng (楊國禎), an associate professor at Providence University’s ecology department, said over-development of land has already caused many problems including landslides and reservoir sedimentation, but if the act further loosens restrictions, natural disasters will result in more serious damage.

A member of the Pingtung County Environmental Protection Union said they are worried that if the act is passed, the Ma-anshan Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County, located on fault zone, would be allowed to add new facilities and some currently illegal hotel resorts built in restricted development areas would become legal.

Herlin Hsieh (謝和霖) of Taiwan Watch Institute said “the current problem is that local governments make mistakes, but the central government isn’t doing a good job of monitoring them,” so that while the central government has many laws, it cannot make local governments adhere to them.

Liao Wen-hung (廖文弘), an official from the ministry’s Construction and Planning Agency, said that while the draft is due to be announced next month, it would be reviewed and revised, adding that the environmental groups’ opinions would be addressed in the second review scheduled for December.

The ministry would hold public hearings for discussions with environmentalists and various civic groups, he added.