Legions of police officers guarding the Formosa Plastics management offices at Mailiao.
The second fire within a month at the Formosa Plastics plant in Mailiao in Yunlin County. Formosa Plastics were the winners of the infamous Black Planet Award in 2009 for their horrendous environmental track record. Photo courtesy of MFCU.
Yesterday, local residents from the area around the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) plant at Mailiao on the Yunlin County coast blocked access to the plant in a protest against excessive pollution levels caused by two fires at the plant last month. Clashes erupted when the police tried to forcefully remove and disburse protesting residents.
While one appreciates the need for the police to maintain order one can't help but note the irony of the situation and the worrying questions it poses.
The shocking international environmental track record of Formosa Plastics is no secret. From Mailiao, Taiwan to Illinois, USA, FPG has left a trail of toxic destruction. It was for this reason that ethecon, a German-based ethics foundation better known for the annual Blue Planet Award for outstanding dedication and service to the environment decided to bestow the infamous Black Planet Award for 2009 on Formosa Plastics for its dedication to the horrendous destruction it has unleashed on our planet.
On Sunday 25 July the second fire witin a month broke out at the FPG plant at Mailiao and once again toxic clouds engulfed the area. Fires at Formosa Plants are nothing new. Neither are they confined to Taiwan. The FPG fires at Illiopolis, Illinois in 2004 and Point Comfort, Texas in 2005 are just two other examples. Both fires resulted from poor safety management and standards.
The areas surrounding the FPG plant at Mailiao are know to have cancer rates around 6 to 7 times the national average (For more, see: FTV report on high levels of cancer in Mailiao and Taisi Townships in Yunlin County). Many local residents are farmers, fishers and aquaculturists. High levels of pollution and toxic waters destroy their livelihoods. Frustration and anger at Formosa is nothing new for many of these folks and their plight against the toxic corporate giant within their midst's has largely been ignored by the pro petrochemical industry authorities.
It is therefore not surprising that these people after the toxic fallout of two fires within in a month and the pathetic reactions of an indifferent government in the wake of the fires have found the situation intolerable and taken to the streets. After all, is the right to protest one of the pillars of democracy. However, before we continue we need to look at the current political environment these people find themselves in.
Just across the Jhoushui River from Mailiao in Chunghua County the battle over the controversial Central Taiwan Science Park (CTSP) is unfolding. Despite a Taipei High Administrative Court ruling last month that construction work at the CTSP's Phase-4 zone in Erlin, Changhua County had to be stopped until further EIAs were conducted and approved. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has ignored the ruling and allowed companies that had already begun production or were building to continue to do so.
Further up the coast at Houli the EPA ignored a Supreme Administrative Court ruling against the EPA's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) review of the CTSP Phase-3 zone in Houli, Taichung County in January and has allowed the development to continue. In both cases the seizure of farmland and displacement of rural communities to make way for so-called development has been a tragic reality. All the time the developers have been egged on by Taiwan Premier Wu Den-yih who is determined to see the CTSP expansions succeed regardless of what the courts say.
The environmental impact assessment process has not been transparent. Stakeholders, environmentalists, local residents have often been barred or simply not invited to meetings. When they try to attend they usually find legions of riot police barring their way. The president, premier and senior officials have snubbed local residents and refused to even meet them or hear their petitions.
Against this backdrop the situation on the ground certainly looks somewhat menacing and desperate. The people have tried legal options and when they succeed in the courts the government just ignores the rulings. When they go out onto the streets they are met by scores of riot police and leaders are detained because the "protest" has been deemed illegal by the police, which under the circumstances are being seen as enforcers of the will of the Premier Wu and the petrochemical industry rather than enforcing the rule of law and the orders of the courts. It would seem that Wu is setting the stage for a tragic disaster. If the people are left with no legal options then it is almost a certainty that they will feel the need to take the law into their own hands and the results of such actions will likely have very tragic consequences. Makes you wonder just who the real criminals here are?
For more on yesterday's protests see: Mailiao protestors block access to FPG plant.
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