Several environmental groups, supported by lawmakers across party lines, are calling for amendments to the Water Pollution Control Act (水污染防治法) to increase penalties for pollution 10-fold, clearly define a three-phase punishment standard and obligate government agencies to disclose related information.
A number of serious water pollution cases were exposed last year, including wastewater discharged into Greater Kaohsiung’s Houjin River (後勁溪) by Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc, rare algal reefs that were polluted by wastewater discharged from Taoyuan’s Kuanyin Industrial Park (觀音工業區) and irrigation systems in Changhua County that were polluted by wastewater from nearby electroplating factories, the groups said.
The Environmental Jurists Association, Law Aid Foundation, Taiwan Watch Institute, Citizens of the Earth, Taiwan (地球公民基金會, CET) and Tainan Community University said the cases showed that current legislation is incapable of halting “black hearted companies’ malicious deeds.”
Their proposed amendment stressed imposing fines 10 times heavier than the current numbers, clear prohibition on bypass discharge and diluted discharge without approval, a three-phase punishment standard so that government agencies can enforce company shutdowns or other punishments without hesitation.
The groups also proposed the establishment of a review mechanism for a facility to resume operation.
The government must disclose information related to cases of pollution as well as the action it takes to improve the situation, they said.
“We hope it will only be necessary to use the heavy fines sparingly, because sometimes it is difficult to reclaim the environment once it is polluted, said Thomas Chan (詹順貴), an attorney who has worked closely with environmental groups.
Chan said current regulations stipulate that local government “may” determine whether to exercise discretion in imposing fines or ordering shutdowns in severe cases, but the lack of clear definitions on which actions should face what degrees of punishment sometimes leads to companies getting off lightly.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said the many cases showed that not only does the current act lack the ability to prevent pollution, it also uncovered the idleness of the responsible administrative agencies and legislature.
She said the amendment proposed by the groups stressed the implementation of a licensing system, so that the discharge of industrial wastewater without prior approval should be considered illegal.
Taiwan Watch Institute director Herlin Hsieh (謝和霖) said that while regulations stipulate that the administrative office of certain industrial parks has the authority to regulate companies in the area, their amendment proposal stresses that these companies should also be subject to the act.
CET energy department director Joan Tsai (蔡卉荀) said the Greater Kaohsiung Government’s review mechanism for assessing operation resumption at Advanced Semiconductor Engineering’s plant should be disclosed to the public.
“Environmental groups are not against economic development, but companies making money on this land should act socially responsible,” Chan said.
“We call for information disclosure so that we can strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection,” he added.
The proposed amendment is supported by lawmakers including Lin, People First Party Legislator Thomas Lee (李桐豪), Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Chou Ni-an (周倪安) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Wen-yen (邱文彥), and will be submitted for review at the legislature’s committee meeting as soon as possible, the groups said.