Winkler Sues EPA

Robin Winkler, in his role as director of the Taiwan Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, joined an alliance of several environmental NGOs in filing a demand letter to Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) today, to be followed by a lawsuit if the EPA fails to take appropriate action within the 60-day time limit stipulated by law.

The groups allege that the EPA, through its negligence and possibly with outright intent, has failed to adequately protect Taiwan’s environment, threatening the health, safety and viability of people throughout the island, future generations, and the well being of other species and their habitat.

The documents filed with the EPA today specify instances where interpretations of laws and regulations by the EPA have been done without adequate study or understanding of interested parties, resulting in what the complainants allege has the characteristics of intentionally benefiting developers (開發單位), business groups(財團), government agencies, and local and national politicians.

Calvin Wen, former General Secretary of Taiwan’s Green Party had once said, while there may be individuals within the EPA who could, if they chose, do something about the tragic state of Taiwan’s environment, the root of the problem goes beyond individuals and points to a system that is rotten to the core.

The groups cited Taiwan’s very poor showing in a 2005 survey by the World Economic Forum - the Environmental Sustainability Index. Out of 146 countries, Taiwan came in second – second in terms of being the least sustainable country. The group pointed out that Taiwan’s ranking of 145, with only North Korea achieving a lower score, is not at all surprising given the apparent “race to the bottom” by Taiwan’s industry and their competent government agencies in charge (目事業主管機關).

Ho Zongsyun, of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, pointed out that Taiwan ranks number one among developed countries as to increased CO¬¬¬2 emissions during recent years, noting that per-capita emissions in Taiwan are already three times the world average. Also noted was the very low efficiency of Taiwan’s industries as a whole when its emissions are compared to industrial output and GDP.

In addition to illegal and anti-environmental interpretations of laws and regulations that have benefited business groups and government officials at the expense of Taiwan’s environment and sustainable society, the accusations set out violations of a number of other laws including the Cultural Resources Protection Act, the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, Civil Code, and Criminal Code.

This particular matter involves the illegal continuation of construction of a reservoir in central Taiwan’s Yunlin County within an area that has been listed as an important bird area by BirdLife International, the largest international bird conservation organization.

The area is one of the major breeding sites for the Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha). This beautiful migratory songbird, which is legally protected under Taiwan law, is listed as a threatened species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List and is also listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), yet, these facts about the Fairy Pitta were overlooked in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approved by the EPA in May 2000.

The reservoir will not only impact very negatively on the Fairy Pitta but also threatens to flood the habitat of a number of other threatened and protected bird, plant, amphibian and other species. The activities surrounding the construction and operation of the reservoir may well also deal a devastating blow to the survival of Taiwan’s unique and already fast declining Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) population. Industrial development resulting in habitat loss and the reduction of the flow of fresh water into the Sousa dolphin’s habitat is so obvious that even the developers in a recent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) application admitted that loss of fresh water is one of the major sources of the disappearance of the Sousa (8th Nahptha Cracker EIA report, section 7.2.3).

Finally, a high-level government official who supports the coalition’s action but who asked to remain anonymous, commented, “It is really ironic how our government can go around and tout the amazing beauty and diversity of the island and even make public events of hosting foreign ambassadors to bird-watching events, when all the time they are engaged in the mad and rapidly increasing devastation of Taiwan’s few remaining lowland natural areas under the guise of former Premier Su’s “Big Warmth, Big Investment” policy.”