Taiwan's environmental protection problems and movement Ⅱ
Mining and industry
Another problem is mining, especially for minerals to make cement. In the beginning, it was only the western part of Taiwan that was heavily mined for these minerals, but former President Lee Teng-hui advocated a new policy encouraging industry to move to the eastern part of the island. What ended up happening was that the mining industry moved east while the others pretty much stayed put, with mining interests excavating on the periphery of Taroko National Park. The extraction of these minerals has taken a heavy toll on Taiwan’s natural resources. Taiwan is the number two country in the world in terms of the volume of concrete use, second behind only Kuwait. Taiwan uses approximately 1,200 metric tons of concrete per person per year annually and has some left over for export.
There is also the problem of industry. Taiwan’s petrochemical industry began its development in Kaohsiung. The first naphtha cracker plant was built there in 1968 and there are a total of five in the region today. In the beginning, these plants caused severe air pollution to the point that lighting a mosquito coil or cigarette at home would cause an explosion and any spark in the underground water supply would bring about problems as well. When the government proposed building the fifth naphtha cracker plant in 1987, local residents vehemently protested. Demonstrators marched on the Legislative Yuan and surrounded the proposed plant site for hundreds of days in order to keep construction from proceeding. The protest ended when the government sent in anti-riot police. The protests, however, were not completely in vain, as they forced the government to decide to move the factory by the year 2015. Today Taiwan faces a crucial period as the petrochemical and steel industries look to set up more factories. Many places are starting campaigns against the establishment of factories in their areas. People in Yunlin County are against Formosa Plastics building a steel mill there. Formosa Plastics Chairman Wang Yung-ching still gets a lot of mileage out of playing Taiwan and China against each other though, threatening each side to take his business to the other unless he is given preferential economic incentives. The environmental protection record for Formosa Plastics in Taiwan leaves much to be desired, but he uses the political tug-of-war going on between Taiwan and China to his advantage.
There are three major industries in Taiwan, steel, petrochemical and electronic. These three industries account for over 90 percent of the total here. The Hsinchu Science Park began developing 25 years ago. Many people believe that the electronics industry in the Hsinchu Science Park does not pollute as profusely as the petrochemical and steel industries do, but in fact there is still a very serious problem in this regard as well. First, the park is located on a massive plot of former farmland. One factory requires anywhere from 50 to 100 hectares. The problems these factories create include waste disposal management that lead to groundwater pollution. The wastewater then reaches the rivers, which farmers use for irrigation. The fields then gradually take in too much salt, rendering them incapable of further cultivation. Groundwater pollution also causes the destruction of ecosystems along coastal areas that in turn lead to problems with food safety. One example is the exorbitant amount of heavy metals found in cultivated oysters along the coast.
Moreover, these factories need a huge volume of water; farmers compete with these industrial giants for water sources, with the farmers ending up the losers. Often times farmers have no recourse but to leave their land fallow in order to supply water to these electronic factories. The fallowing fees should by rights be picked up by these factories, but all too often the government ends up footing the bill, which means it comes out of taxpayer pockets. The most unjust part of this whole matter is the very minimal amount of taxes these high-tech factories pay each year. China is presently copying this model now, which is predicated on offering very attractive incentives, including low land taxes and tax exemptions for imported equipment. In the end, we find that while on the surface these high-tech factories invest a lot, the taxes the government takes in are minimal. High-tech companies say they are just starting out, but they gradually help widen the poverty gap.
The protest methods chosen by Taiwan environmental protection groups have included rallies, pleading our cases with officials, marches and even canvassing. In order for these protests to be effective, they have had to take place in Taipei, as the city is Taiwan’s political and economic center. This has been a hardship on those of us from southern Taiwan who have to make this journey every time we want to get our point across. When we plead our cases with officials, we try to do so across party lines. But in Taiwan when in comes to environmental issues, the KMT is still the party that favors all-out development. Even now in their capacity as opposition party, many KMT members still devote efforts to initiating development plans. The Democratic Progressive Party wears a “green cloak,” because it was a party that got its start from popular grassroots support. The DPP combined the efforts and spirit of the environmental protection movement and other protest groups in rising to power. Consequently, on the surface the party wants to portray a green image. In point of fact, however, the party lacks ideals and principles and is just being pulled along by the vast majority of technocrats. When the DPP was the opposition party, at least we could join forces with its members to protest the absolute development policies advocated by the KMT. But now that the DPP has become the ruling party, we have no allies, because even when we try to approach the KMT, our efforts end up with few results.
One recent example has been the policy behind building the Hushan Reservoir. Seventy-three of the 225 legislators we canvassed were against the development of the reservoir, with most of those dissenting from the DPP and the majority of the KMT legislators supporting the plan. Since 2000, social movement work has been extremely tough going in Taiwan, because we have failed to find a true opposition party to work with. On the surface of things, the two sides look like they are constantly at each other’s throats, but when it comes to major development projects, they usually stand side by side. Our own power is weak compared with theirs. Government officials always push the final blame on “public will.” Government officials are popularly elected, but how many votes do environmental protection groups get? It seems that presently there is little room left for rational dialogue in Taiwan when it comes to public policy on environmental protection issues.
Lee Gen-cheng: Most of the development projects in Taiwan are in the ‘environmental assessment’ stage. This process of assessing environmental impact has been in place for the past decade or so. But so far this has been more of a rubber stamp process, with the government just glossing over the assessment. When the new Environmental Protection Administration director (Chang Kuo-lung) took office in 2005, he invited some private environmental protection group members to join the assessment process. But pressure from the Executive Yuan ultimately forces environmental policy assessment direction. In Taiwan, the central government is still the authority that controls most development projects. On the surface, it appears as though private groups hold some sway, but when it comes time to canvas officials, results are not always forthcoming.
The EPA has a specialized mechanism for environmental assessment. After the ‘Environmental Impact Assessment Law’ was passed in 1994, it stipulated that any development project within certain scopes had to undergo assessment. Mountainside development assessments are particularly stringent, as any development plan over one hectare has to undergo the process; flatland assessments are less stringent. Almost all industrial zone setups, road developing and mining activity have to go through environmental impact assessment. There are twenty-one members taking part in environmental impact meetings; seven of these members are vice ministers that have no direct contact with the development project, such as officials with the Council for Economic Planning and Development and the Council of Agriculture. There are also fourteen experts and scholars who round out the committee. According to the design of the law, if it is determined during the assessment process that if a development project will have too big of an impact on the environment, it can be turned down. In point of fact, however, this veto power is seldom evoked as it encroaches on the authority of the Executive Yuan. Whenever the Executive Yuan decides to go through with a development project, it usually does, as in the end the premier has more power than the EPA director. If a case is vetoed by the EPA’s assessment committee, the Executive Yuan higher ups will often override the decision if they find it unacceptable. Even though they know quite well that the law gives the environmental impact assessment committee the power to veto projects, central government officials still think up ways to intervene in the process, making the committee capitulate to their interests in the end.