On Sept. 29, three boilers at Formosa Chemicals & Fibre Corp’s coal-fired power plant were shut down after the Changhua County Government rejected an application to extend their operation permits. The company turned to the media and the central government, asking the latter to intervene as a mediator.
In response, Minister of Economic Affairs Lee Chih-kung (李世光) said that the plant complies with the strictest emission standards and that no one wants to see the company shut down the plant under such circumstances.
In addition, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has instructed Environmental Protection Administration Minister Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) to serve as a liaison between the county government and the company.
It is necessary for the central government to coordinate administrative affairs, but the question is why it failed to do so and even hesitated to make such an effort for a long time, and why it decided to step forward as a mediator only after the county government made its decision.
It was not easy for the county government to make the decision, as it had to deal with calls from both the company and environmental groups. As the central government starts mediating in the case, people are beginning to question whether it is doing so out of fear of the company or because it feels that the local government’s decision was inappropriate. In either case, an intervention could hurt the central government’s image and credibility.
The central and local governments have different powers and responsibilities, but the government must act as one. Unfortunately, governments at different levels have often played different tunes in recent years, which has made things more difficult and problematic.
Take the Formosa case for instance: The county government rejected the permit extension application for the boilers 37 times, while the county government’s Environmental Protection Bureau claimed that on 20 of those occasions, the company resubmitted the same document to the bureau. If the two parties had been able to communicate effectively, the company would not have had to submit the application so many times and the deadlock could have been avoided.
In addition, Lee should insist on the protection of the environment as he tries to mediate the dispute, despite the difficulties. At the very least, he should demand that the company shut down its coal-fired power generators to provide a better living environment for county residents. This is the minimum requirement that must form the basis for restarting negotiations, and it could help the central government avoid once again damaging the public’s trust in the government and clear the plant’s image of being a source of pollution.
There is a contention between economic development and environmental protection, but the two are not completely opposed to each other. The advancement of technology has made it possible for people to make smart choices. Moving toward sustainable development through energy savings and carbon reduction is a major global issue, and the government has new ideas and development strategies, and would take action.
As technology continues to develop, large enterprises should make an effort to transform or upgrade production methods to reduce pollution. By doing so, they would win public praise and be able to generate even higher economic value.
Chang Huey-por is a former president of National Changhua University of Education.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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