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EPA shelves water dispute at petrochemical complex
Author:yilyt Time:2007-07-04 10:08:20

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) decided yesterday to temporarily shelve penalties on 14 enterprises in the petrochemical complex in southwestern Taiwan, pending the water-saving measures to be adopted by the companies.
The EPA made the decision after an on-site inspection of the industrial complex at Mailiao of Yunlin County by Huang Guang-hui, director of the agency's Department of Overall Planning.

EPA officials denied that they averted an earlier plan to fine the industrial conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) and over a dozen other enterprises, after President Chen Shui-bian personally dropped in at the petrochemical complex and met with FPG chairman Wang Yung-ching last Saturday.

They clarified that the FPG and other companies deserve a review of their latest proposal for limiting water consumption volume as had been promised earlier.

The companies are seeking a new extension on the deadline to improve the situation by the end of the year.

They argued that they have been unable to reduce the volume of water they use everyday, mainly because of increased industrial production at their facilities.

Despite pressure and criticism from environmental protection organizations and environmental impact assessments, the EPA decided to put off the penalty issue for 10 days to first review the new plan presented by the companies.

The new decision was seen as a victory of the industrial enterprises, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), and the Executive (Cabinet) Yuan which has proclaimed it will not to recklessly levy heavy fines on companies or shut them down.

Senior government officials and lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hailed and supported the EPA decision.

Environmentalists are concerned that the handling of the water dispute by the government reflects its attitude and policies concerning environmental protection.

They said the EPA has been consistently downgraded both in its role and its voice in the government, leaving it to the whim of senior officials and big businesses.

The exoneration of companies at the petrochemical complex for failing to abide by the rules will be unfair for other smaller companies that have been fined by the EPA for the same reasons, they said.

Lawmakers of the opposition parties urged the EPA and all government agencies to avoid applying double standards when enforcing the nation's laws and regulations.

This case showed that all problems involving thorny legal issues can be easily solved by the involvement of people at "high places."

But the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), a key political partner of the DPP, insisted that the EPA stick to its plan to fine the companies.

Lawmakers of the party criticized the enterprises for failing to honor their commitment of processing and using waste water and setting up a desalination water plant, as they have promised.

They threatened to call for a vote of no-confidence on the Cabinet, which is led by Premier Chang Chun-hsiung.

Environmentalist groups said the concession made by the EPA in the water dispute could indicate that the Cabinet will approve more large-scale controversial projects, including the construction of a giant steel mill to be built by the FPG in the neighboring area of its petrochemical complex, at the expense of the quality of life and the environment.

Other projects still under scrutiny but which may eventually gain the green light from the government include a new petrochemical complex planned by government and private enterprises, a thermal power plant on the coast of Changhua County, and the Suao-Hualien freeway on the eastern coast of Taiwan.
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