Formosa Plastic Group's Yunlin Steel Mill Needs More Review

Lee Ken-cheng

In March of this year, a subcommittee of the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee decided that the Formosa Plastics Group's (FPG) US$4 billion steel mill project in Yunlin County should undergo a second-stage Environmental Impact Assessment. This decision was never ratified by a plenary session of the Committee due to concerted pressure from FPG, the Presidential Office, and the Executive Yuan.

Soon after, the Environmental Protection Agency's minister Chang Kuo-lung was forced to resign, and none of the Committee's members whom FPG had demanded recuse themselves from reviewing the project were reappointed to the Committee when their term expired in July. Seven months of delay later, a newly appointed Committee has overturned the March decision and sent the project back to subcommittee for a new review, thereby giving FPG another chance to avoid a second-stage assessment. The subcommittee meets today (2007-11-7). I ask that the subcommittee address the issues I set out here and give the public a full accounting.

  1. Phase 4 of FPG's No. 6 Naphtha Cracker Project produces 67.557 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually, accounting for 26.57 percent of Taiwan's total carbon emissions. FPG's Yunlin steel mill project will produce another 14.896 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually or 5.86 percent of Taiwan's total. Together, these two projects will account for 32.43 percent of Taiwan's total carbon emissions. In other words, once Taiwan has to reduce carbon emissions, FPG's total carbon output would not be set off even if every man, woman, and child in Taiwan stopped all residential, commercial, and transportation activities. When that day comes, who is going to have to reduce? Who is going to pay the price of reduction?

     

     

  2. The Sixth Naptha Cracker uses cheap water diverted from agricultural uses. By selling water to FPG for profit, the Taiwan Joint Irrigation Association forces farmers to pump ground water. This pumping in turn causes central Taiwan's serious land subsidence issue to worsen. The land subsidence problem will continue even if we build the Hushan Reservoir in response to the expanding need for industrial-use water. FPG however eschews any responsibility for the land subsidence it is indirectly causing by its water use.
  3. The Sixth Naptha Cracker has sharply increased air pollution in Yunlin and Chiayi counties. Elementary school students near the Sixth Naptha Cracker breathe foul air. In some In extreme cases, students wear protective face masks to class. But to pave the way for FPG and Kuokuang Petrochemicals to build their new facilities there, the Industrial Development Bureau is asking the EPA to abandon the its total air pollution capacity controls. In particular, the Bureau is asking the EPA to raise its cap for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by 58 percent. Should we really be allowing government agencies in charge of economic development to be determining the air pollution standards that impact our health?
  4. FPG claims that is committed to trustworthiness and feedback to the local community. Before it built the Sixth Naptha Cracker, FPG made promises to the people of Yunlin County. It would build a new Mailiao Township, a Yunlin branch of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital (established by the founders of FPG in memory of their father), and a local nursing college. The commissioner of Yunlin County at the time claimed that the project would bring between 120,000 and 200,000 jobs to Yunlin. Not one of those promises have been kept. Over the last dozen years, Yunlin County's population has decreased by nearly 17,000 people. The dream of prosperity created by the Sixth Naptha Cracker was an illusion. In its place, Yunlin, already one of Taiwan's poorest counties, received a polluted environment. Why should we trust FPG again?

 

The FPG steel mill project threatens nearly two-thirds of Taiwan's clam hatcheries, the important aquaculture business, and Taiwan’s Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. This is part of the price we will pay.

Taiwan's petrochemical, steel, concrete, and paper industries have consumed more than 30% of Taiwan's energy production in recent years. Yet these industries have accounted for less that five percent of Taiwan's real GDP during the same period. In 2005, they accounted for just 2.49 percent of GDP. Taiwan is the world's biggest producer of steel per square kilometer. Can Taiwan, a tiny island nation that is virtually 100 percent dependent on imported energy, afford to continue developing this extravagantly polluting industry with its profligate energy requirements given the heavy environmental burden it already bears? Should we let FPG, which produces one third of Taiwan's carbon emissions, go on lining its pockets, destroying the environment, and preying on the weakest among us?

If a development project of the FPG steel mill's magnitude and impact does not merit a second-phase Environmental Impact Assessment, we should scrap Taiwan's environmental assessment process. I expect the newly-appointed Environmental Impact Assessment Committee members to do their duty and protect Taiwan's environment.

WAH note: At a chaotic 7 Nov. meeting the subcommittee again recommended that the project undergo a second-stage assessment. During the meeting, Yunlin County Council Speaker Su Jinhuang assaulted WAH Executive Director Robin Winkler. The assault is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

Lee Ken-cheng was a teacher in Kaohsiung for 17 years. He is the Executive Director of Mercy on the Earth Taiwan and a former appointee to the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee. An earlier version of this comment was published in Chinese by the China Times.