Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All three effluent discharge proposals for Central Taiwan Science Park development will lead to pollution of humpback dolphin habitat

According to Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, plans for the "fourth phase" Central Taiwan Science Park development, which will include factories for the semiconductor, opto-electronics and precision machinery industries, will result in the discharge of factory pollutants into the estuaries feeding humpback dolphin habitat, or directly into the sea. Full report below:

In response to protest by residents, farmers and aquaculture farmers in Changhua County against planned effluent discharge from a major high-tech industrial development project planned for Erlin Township in Changhua County, Central Taiwan Science Park developers are now proposing to discharge the effluent into Yunlin County’s Jhuoshuei River instead, provoking an angry response from Yunlin residents, who are equally concerned about the pollution and say that there has been no public explanation of the project.

The fourth phase of the CTSP development is to be located in Erlin Township, Changhua County, nearby and upstream of agriculture and aquaculture farms. The science park’s Erlin Zone will initially include factories belonging to the semiconductor, opto-electronics and precision machinery industries.

The original plan was to discharge waste water from the complex into the Old Jhuoshuei River, which flows northwestwards and meets the sea at Fusing Township, Changhua County. However, Erlin Township and Fusing Township agriculture and aquaculture farmers downstream of the site protested against this, fearful of the impacts on their produce and their health.

Map: The three proposed discharge options

Last Monday (8 August) Changhua residents protested outside the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in Taipei during the fourth review meeting for the development. Protesters gathered behind a scene of rice, hay, grapes and dragon fruit strewn on the ground and held up banners and signs carrying slogans such as “Phase Four of the CTSP means terminal cancer”, “Who wants to eat green, toxic oysters?” and “The people of Erlin don’t want CTSP’s arsenic pollution”.

Photo: Changhua County residents protest at EPA, 10.8.09.

They warned that much of the food produced in and around Erlin is consumed in places such as Taipei, and that people around Taiwan would soon be eating poisoned food if this project goes ahead. Several said that they would not dare eat their own produce if it were irrigated with contaminated water from the CTSP factories.

Now Yunlin County residents face the same problem after the CTSP developers responded to the protest in Changhua County by suggested discharging pollutants southwards into Yunlin County’s Jhuoshuei River, instead.

“Yunlin County is a major rice producing area in Taiwan,” says Hua-Suei Chen of Yunlin County Environmental Protection Bureau, “and our rice is famous for being irrigated with water from the Jhuoshuei River. Hsilo Township [in Yunlin] is also Taiwan’s biggest vegetable and fruit supplying region, and the Jhuoshuei River feeds many of central Taiwan’s aquaculture ponds.”

A third alternative suggested by the developers is to pipe the effluent directly into the ocean. Some locals prefer this option to discharge into rivers. However, according to Wild at Heart lawyer Ya-Ying Tsai, all three options could have serious negative impacts on the environment.

“Discharging the effluent into either the Old Jhuoshuei River or the Jhuoshuei River has implications for the health of people in those areas and the safety of the food they produce and deliver to people in other parts of Taiwan. But dumping all that pollution into the sea is no ideal solution, either, because Taiwan’s critically endangered humpback dolphins are resident in the shallow coastal waters of western Taiwan. The rivers feeding into the estuaries are also important for maintaining the estuarine ecosystems, which provide food for the dolphins, too, so either way this effluent is bad news for them.”

But some say it is premature to be talking about where to discharge the effluent. Chemistry expert Herlin Hsieh of the Taipei-based non-governmental organization Taiwan Watch points out that the science park developers have failed even to provide a list of the chemical substances that will actually be used in, or discharged from, the science park.

“The chemicals listed in the developers’ documents as being prohibited or controlled include a lot of agricultural chemicals, not the types of chemicals used in the electronics industry,” says Hsieh. “The developers should list the names and volumes of chemicals to be used and discharged. If, during the environmental impact assessment process, we don’t even know what kinds of chemical substances will be used, what potential impacts can possibly be assessed?”

Hsieh recommends that models should be used to predict the impacts on ecology and farm production once the effluent from the Erlin Zone has contaminated irrigation water, and that this should be followed by a thorough health impact assessment. After this, he says, the public should be consulted about the standards and volumes of contaminated water they find acceptable, and compensated if it turns out after the companies start operating that the CTSP developers and the EPA were wrong about there being “no impact”.

According to protesters at the meeting last Monday, the developers had not held any public explanation meetings in the affected townships. Explanation meetings have now been scheduled to take place tomorrow (18 August) simultaneously in three different towns (Mailiao, Lunbei and Erlun), meaning that representatives from community and environmental groups cannot observe and monitor the quality of information provided or the level of transparency and public participation at the meetings, which is often a major point of contention in the EIA process.

Also see:
Leave Taiwan's future a clean Chuoshui River

Stop the CTSP Erlin Science Park; Protect Farmers, Fishermen and the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins.

Update: Stop the CTSP Erlin Science Park - Protect Farmers, Fishers and the Taiwan Humpback Dolphins.

Taiwan Humpback Dolphin Extinction Guaranteed by Ma and Wu’s Cat in the Hat Economics?

Black Friday for Erlin - The EPA once again strikes a blow against the environment

The saga of the CTSP Erlin Science Park and the Kuokuang Petrochemical Project

More protests at the EPA against the CTSP Erlin Science Park

Friday, August 14, 2009

Typhoon Morakot: The Writing's on the Wall

A huge landslide in the mountains of Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan.

A government rescue helicopter flying through the the clear early morning skies before the afternoon rain and mist roll in.

As the fog of incapacitating shock clears, many people in central and southern Taiwan are becoming angry. Both of Taiwan's leading English newspapers carry criticisms of the government's top leadership in their editorials. The Taipei Times editorial is titled The price of incompetent leadership and the Taiwan News editorial is named Morakot's harm to Taiwan worsened by KMT hubris. None but the most mindless Chinese National Party (KMT or Kuomintang) supporter couldn't help but be angered by President Ma Ying-jeou's pathetic display of leadership during this national tragedy.

As the President and his men point fingers, it is everyone else but them to blame for how the response to Morakot and its aftermath have been mismanaged. Even the authoritarian and aloof leadership in China managed a better performance in the wake of last summer's devastating Sichuan earthquake.

Despite the lack of presidential leadership through this horrendous week the true spirit of compassion and love has shined through as a light above the devastation below, as people; be they rescuers, conscripted soldiers, volunteers or just a stranger offering a hand; have given their all through the mist, rain and mud, along treacherous slopes and through raging waters to save and bring comfort and hope...and lead the nation through this devastating tragedy.

It is also a time to reflect. We need to ask how much of this tragedy has resulted from decades of poor land and water management policies that set up some regions as ticking time bombs. As forests were stripped away leaving nothing to bind the soils and rocks of mountainsides together and uncontrolled and irresponsible construction became a standard, it turned many mountain areas into a tragedy waiting to happen. It is time to take a long hard look at land and water management policies and put an end to short-term "make-a-quick-buck while tearing up the countryside" type of policies and replace them with real sustainable land and water management policies that don't cost lives and billions of dollars in repairs when big typhoons blow in.

See today's Taiwan News editorial titled Taiwan must heed Morakot`s warning for more reflection on Taiwan's land and water management policies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Morakot's Wake

Typhoon Morakot has carved a path of destruction across the Philippines, Taiwan and China. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims of this tragedy, human and non-human alike. We wish strength to those who have watched their homes, villages and environment swept away. We pray for the safety of those involved in the rescue efforts as they make their way to Hsiaolin and other devastated villages.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

EPA lacks guts to follow through with own dolphin impact meetings

It sounded great – the “Expert Meeting on the Impacts of Relevant West Coast Development Projects on the Humpback Dolphins and Integrated Impact Reduction Measures”. What more all-encompassing assessment could those concerned about the effects of unrelenting coastal industrial development on Taiwan’s critically endangered humpback dolphin population have asked for? Well, perhaps one that in some way reflected the intention suggested by this superb title. Now two such meetings have been held, and green groups are at a loss for positive words to describe the results.

Shortly before the first “expert meeting” on 1 June the host – Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) - sent participants copies of a report that was to be discussed. Given the several dozen major development projects adjacent to or upstream of the dolphins’ habitat, it seemed somewhat inappropriate that the sole subject of the report was Taiwan Power Company’s (Taipower) Changgong Coal-Fired Power Plant, proposed for construction on the Changhua County coast. Although the expert meeting had indeed originally been proposed during an assessment meeting for the Taipower project, the impacts of one single power plant could hardly represent the diverse forms of pollution, land and water use, freshwater exploitation and underwater noise associated with all the other projects up and down the west coast. And with its all-inclusive title the EPA clearly meant to discuss the enormous collective load of all the projects on the dolphins…didn’t it?

So staff members of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association did what they considered to be the EPA’s homework and put together a list of thirty-one projects that would likely cause major environmental changes relevant to the dolphins. This included several river damming and diversion projects, coal-fired and offshore wind power plants, petrochemical and hi-tech science parks, a steel plant and a harbour expansion project.

On 1 June, Wild distributed the list to the EPA and its expert committee. Participants from Changhua Coast Conservation Action, Changhua Environmental Protection Union, Matsu’s Fish Conservation Union, Taiwan Academy of Ecology, EAST and Green Party Taiwan all echoed Wild’s concerns that any meeting purporting to address the combined impact of all west coast projects should live up to its name.

Participating groups also challenged the quality of the Changgong power plant report, prepared by Dr. Lien-Siang Chou of National Taiwan University (NTU), as not meeting even basic scientific standards, failing to cite major relevant published reports, omitting important data, making inaccurate statements and demonstrating a bias. (Dr. Chou was hired by Taipower to carry out their study of the potential impacts of the power plant on the dolphins).

The committee concluded that Taipower would have to gather more information on the dolphins and suggest ways in which the company proposed to reduce the impact of the power plant on the population, and also that no decisions could be made based on the information that had been presented.

However, no solution was offered regarding the glaring problem of the other thirty projects.

Not one of the other projects featured in the second expert meeting on 31 July, either. Instead, a revised report by Dr. Chou focused on what the Changgong coal-fired power plant would NOT do to the dolphins – e.g. it would, apparently, not involve noisy pile-driving or obstruct their north-south movement along the coast - but failed to even mention the plant’s air pollution as a potential threat to the air-breathing mammals.

Regarding other sources of noise pollution during construction, Dr. Chou recommended adopting the 180 decibel (dB) threshold, used by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as the noise level at which Taipower should temporarily stop construction and start thinking up noise reduction measures.

In fact, 180 dB is the noise level at which the NMFS claims permanent physiological damage can occur in cetaceans (although scientists argue that lower noise levels can also lead to such damage). It is also widely acknowledged – also by NMFS – that noise levels far lower than this can have other important effects such as temporary hearing loss and behavioural impacts, which can be equally life-threatening to animals so dependent on acoustic signals for survival. Therefore, the adoption of a 180 dB threshold would show almost no precaution, allowing all possible levels of impact to occur - even permanent hearing loss - before noise reduction measures would be triggered.

In response to the concerns over the continued treatment of Taipower’s power plant as a proxy for all west coast cases, the chair of the meeting, Dr. Fan Kuang-Lung, a professor of oceanography at NTU, brushed these aside, and finally dismissed everyone but the expert committee for a closed door session.

The committee’s conclusions were that 1) west coast developers should act in accordance with Taiwan’s Wildlife Conservation Act (which says that humpback dolphins are a Level One protected species and, hence, affords them the highest level of protection from human activities); 2) the dolphins could be impacted by habitat destruction, pollution (including noise pollution), reduced sources of food and fisheries interactions, but that the extent of these impacts was not yet known; and 3) careful assessment of the potential for west coast development projects to cause these impacts is recommended.

The disappointment (apart from the fact that freshwater exploitation was omitted from this version of the now two-year-old list of major threats to the population) is that these conclusions only confirm what has been said repeatedly since at least as far back as the second international workshop on Taiwan’s humpback dolphins in Changhua City in 2007, although this is largely a symptom of the lack of detailed, accurate information provided to committee members - what more could they have said? Also, although this was by no means unexpected, the EPA unfortunately seems no closer than before to addressing the combined, synergistic impacts of the myriad sources of anthropogenic disturbance along the west coast.

One wonders whether the title of the meeting was an attempt by the EPA to establish a set of unspecific or irrelevant statements that could be applied arbitrarily to all projects in order to shuttle them through the EIA process, or the brainchild of a sensible, well-meaning junior official, who might then have been reprimanded for thinking out of the box. Either way, the EPA appears bent on denying the only logical interpretation of the title of its own meeting.

The hint of a silver lining glimmers, albeit very modestly, around the fact that the dolphins’ legal status has now been acknowledged by an expert committee appointed by the EPA. However, whether and how this will be reflected in action over the following months of project impact assessments will depend very much, as always, on the work of representatives from green groups attending and monitoring the EPA’s meetings.