Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Eighth Naphtha Cracking Plant Controversy -- from the Perspective of the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant Controversy

The Eighth Naphtha Cracking Plant Controversy --from the Perspective of the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant Controversy
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
July 27, 2010

Last week the Ministry of the Interior held its first conference for the protection of dolphins -- the "Cho-shui Creek Tidal Flats Charitable Trust." The atmosphere during the conference was unexpectedly tranquil and reasonable. It was the calm before the storm. The Ministry of the Interior and other agencies adopted a neutral stance, in strict accordance with the law. The agency responsible is willing to prepare the required legal documents in advance, then submit the case for approval. This was the second time in 20 days that controversy over the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant flared up. Uncertainties over worker safety have diminished production capacity by nearly one half. This has made a balance between development and conservation even more urgent.

Environmentalists say that the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Technology Company's Eighth Naphtha Cracking Plant is endangering Chinese White Dolphins. On the same day, company representatives, accompanied by Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-in and Industrial Development Bureau Chief Tu Chi-jun, held a press conference. They make it abundantly clear that if the project was still bogged down by environmental hurdles in November, they would "call it quits." For company representatives to adopt such an attitude is perfectly understandable. But when officials from the Ministry of Economic Affairs endorse such a stance and cast doubt on their own neutrality, it is hardly helpful to arriving at a rational solution.

Should the mudflats on the north shore of the Cho-shui Creek in Changhua County's Ta Chen Village be turned into an industrial zone? That is of course a national land use issue. But it also involves Chinese White Dolphins, which are threatened with extinction, and the question, "Whither Taiwan?" This makes it more than just a fight between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Kuo Kuang Petrochemical on one side, with 40,000 supporters of the Environmental Trust Foundation on the other side. This makes it a question about where 23 million people ought to be headed.

Clearly the most important issue for the public is how to balance economic development with environmental protection, i.e., how to ensure sustainable development. Controversies have erupted over Phase Three of the Central Taiwan Science Park Environmental Impact Report, the use of land belonging to the Number 202 Munitions Plant in Nangang as a biotech park, and the invoking of eminent domain in order to acquire agricultural lands in Miaoli Tai Po. In each of these cases, some members of the public have taken exception to the government's policy of sacrificing the environment for the sake of economic productivity. They have lodged protests, demanding that the government address their concerns.

Taiwan has enjoyed sixty years of economic growth, in part at the expense of the environment. We began by cutting down forests and exporting the lumber. Later the Kaohsiung Harbor ship-breaking industry, the acid treatment of heavy metal waste, electroplating, dyeing, cement manufacturing, petrochemical, and other highly polluting, energy-intensive industries have exacted a heavy price on the environment and on peoples' health. The petrochemical and other environmentally harmful industries have contributed to our economic prosperity. For that we must be grateful. But the question 23 million people on Taiwan ought to be asking is, should we continue sacrificing the environment for the sake of economic prosperity today.

Over the past 60 years pro-development forces have called the shots. But they are not an unassailable monolith. They too must change their thinking, in step with the public on Taiwan. That is progress. That is reason. Ship-breaking and the acid treatment of heavy metal waste have been outsourced. Kaohsiung's cement industry has been shutdown. Projects such as the Liwu Creek Power Plant, Zonta Cement Plant, and the Yuli Yushan section of the New Central Cross-Island Highway have been put on hold. This shows that government agencies understand the public's priorities, and is honoring the public's wishes.

Consider the clash between developers who want to proceed with the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant Project and environmentalists who want to protect Chinese White Dolphins. In their fight over how the Cho-shui Creek mudflats ought to be used, they must convince not just the government and shareholders, but 23 million members of the public. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Kuo Kuang Petrochemical argue that the petrochemical industry may be a energy hungry, highly polluting industry, it is nevertheless essential to our economy. There really is no alternative to constructing the plant on Chinese White Dolphin habitat. The Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant Project may not be a low impact, new era technology such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, or information and communications technology. But it will generate 500 billion in profits each year.

Environmentalists whose priority is the protection of the Chinese White Dolphin, must convince the public that the protection of endangered species is the mark of a civilized nation. The mudflats are Chinese White Dolphin habitat essential to their feeding and reproduction. If the land is reclaimed, the Chinese White Dolphins face extinction. The Chinese White Dolphins migrate from the west coast across the "Black Water Ditch" (Taiwan Strait). They travel through the Yun Chang uplift, the Kuanyin depression, and other formations in the Taiwan Strait. Their migratory path is affected by the Kuroshio Current and ocean currents along the Mainland coast. One cannot train them to change paths. One cannot use bait to induce them to live in regions outside the area earmarked for development.

What kind of Taiwan do we want? An environmently friendly Taiwan? Or one that trades its environment for wealth? A public consensus outweighs any consensus reached by a handful of economic experts, capitalists, and industry experts. A public consensus must be respected. This is a society in which the people are the boss.

This case may be seen as the first step in a rational policy debate. Whether the "Environmental Charitable Trust" bill will be passed is still unknown. But the forward-looking ideas in the proposed Environmental Charitable Trust will enable the public to consider the relative importance of Chinese White Dolphins and the petrochemical industry, as it proceeds down the road toward a sustainable future.

2010.07.27 01:29 am











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