EIA Review Commissioners' Joint Statement

This statement expresses protest against interference by the Executive Yuan in the professional work of EIA commissioners, and insists that all development cases should be subject to an identical and independent review process.

In response to the Executive Yuan's bold statement to the press yesterday that Taiwan's EIA process has become the biggest obstacle to the country's development, and demanding that major cases such as the Central Taiwan Science Park, Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Technology Corp. and the Formosa Plastics steel plant be approved as quickly as possible, this statement raises the most solemn objections. Such one-sided public statements by Executive Yuan not only seriously affect the image of the EIA system, but also interfere in the independent and professional review system.

According to the Organic Law of the Executive Yuan, the EIA committee is a body under the EPA responsible for hearing EIA cases. It was set up to comply with the administrative reform requirements for professional, rather than political, methods of dealing with complex environmental issues, and to break down the traditional hierarchical administrative system, making policy decisions through joint consultation rather than acting on commands from higher authorities. Therefore, the requirement expressed by the Executive Yuan to the Council of Economic Planning (COEP) and Development, and even to the Minister of the EPA, to intervene in the EIA process and "give as much assistance as possible within the legal limits of their authority", is a violation of the division of work amongst the administrative authorities. Neither of these two bodies has any legal authority whatsoever to interfere in the workings of the EIA committee, except through a change in the law by the Legislative Yuan disbanding the EIA committee or transforming it into a consultancy body with no real decision-making functions. As it stands, the EIA committee must simply perform its duties and exercise its powers according to law, and resist any interference by other political bodies. Commissioners say that during the review of the EIA for the Central Taiwan Science Park development in Houli, which has already been conditionally approved, the Executive Yuan directly exerted pressure on them. Executive Yuan Deputy Minister Cai Ying-wun has now made a demand to the EPA that it must complete the review of the remaining part of the Central Taiwan Science Park, at Cising Farm, by the end of April, in order to allow companies to enter the area by May. This clear attempt to influence the timing of the review not only means bypassing the system, it would also politically override the expertise of the EIA Committee, completely trampling its image and dignity.

In addition, the rights and responsibilities bestowed on the Committee by the EIA Act require substantial review of development projects in terms of all aspects of pollution prevention and control, use of natural resources, and negative effects on the ecological environment, society and culture. EIA committee members therefore bear a great social responsibility, and must carefully and thoroughly appraise each case in terms of all positive and negative effects it may have, and thereby reach a conclusion that conforms to law and reason. The MOEA may argue that the NT$1 trillion production value of Chinese Petroleum Corporation's Eighth Naptha Cracker Plant and the Formosa Plastics steel plant will be as much as one tenth of the total national annual production value, but the pollution and other external costs that the factories would create cannot be ignored. Indeed, they may be vastly greater than the benefits. In particular, the huge industrial water needs of these high energy-consuming industries will cause even greater problems for central Taiwan, where there is already a serious water shortage. The fact that construction of the two factories would necessarily require the construction of another reservoir to provide them with water means that the review cannot be simply be restricted to the ecological effects of the individual cases--EIA commissioners must consider the overall sustainable development of Taiwan, and make judgments based on all potential effects, considering both economic efficiency and environmental conservation. They cannot behave as some in government do, seeking political achievement by hastily approving development projects that may cause irreparable damage to Taiwan.

Executive Yuan officials have made statements to the effect that the EPA may not carry out "unbalanced EIA reviews", and that the EPA's wish to incorporate consideration of the greenhouse effect into EIA review standards is deemed using "future standards" to carry out present-day reviews. It has also been said that differences in EIA standards for central and local authorities, and for different cases, cause difficulties for investing companies. Since the EIA Committee of the EPA does not possess the authority to make additions or alterations to the system or laws, or to interfere with local judgments, it withholds comment on the former. However, regarding the issue of varying standards, because the EIA committee is legally restricted to reviewing single cases, review standards must also be formed on an individual basis, according to what is just for each case. In addition, because the result of each review is also based on a high level of expertise, other administrative authorities should not interfere without authorization. Even the courts of law may only interfere if there are major faults in the EIA decision. Therefore, according to law and logic, if any authority is able to judge an EIA as being unbalanced, or to question the process, it is not the Executive Yuan, and certainly not any of the specially designated ministries or commissions under the Executive Yuan.

In summary, this statement expresses protest against the recent interference by administrative agencies in the professional work of EIA commissioners, and demands a return to the administrative organizational system. All development projects, no matter how large, should conform to law and be subject to the same careful EIA procedure. This statement rejects all previous political pressure and interference in EIA decisions, and asks to allow EIA commissioners to be able to perform their duties independently and free from agitation, so that they may continue to make decisions and demands that truly conform to the idea of Taiwan’s sustainable development.

Jointly signed by the following members of the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee:

Robin Winkler
Li Gen-jheng
Jhou Jin-cheng
Syu Guang-rong
Guo Hong-yu
Chen Guang-zu
Jhan Shun-guei
Liou Jhih-cheng
Gu Yang

Date: 27 March 2006

For further information, please contact Christina Macfarquhar: [email protected]