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May 28, 2017

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EPA mulls easing of environmental law

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday held a public hearing over a proposal to relax the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) standards for developments at national parks, drinking water protection zones and reservoir watersheds.

According to the EPA's amendment proposal, any development project with a scope covering less than 500 square meters, or multiple projects with an accumulated 2,500 square meters or less, will not be required to undergo an environmental impact assessment.

Members of several local environmental organizations lashed out at the EPA saying that the proposal is aimed at helping the controversial Miramar Resort Hotel (美麗灣渡假村) and Yoho Beach Resort (悠活麗緻) — both locations were developed without EIAs.

Members of the Taiwan Water Resources Protection Union (TWRPU) who attended the public hearing urged the EPA not to amend the law in such a "reckless" manner, as the proposal will affect reservoir watersheds, national parks, wild animal protection zones and drinking water protection zones.

The proposal would loosen EIA regulations and allow real estate developers, hotel operators and gravel businesses to enter the aforementioned areas for developments such as opening new roads, building new communities and establishing recreational parks, the union said.

The TWRPU said they are concerned that the proposal will "open the gate," allowing businesses to enter the areas, cause environmental damage and pose threats to precious species in mountainous areas and watersheds.

Tsao Shan Waterworks member Wen Hai-chen (文海珍) said Taiwan is a country which lacks sufficient water resources, noting that the government should value water resource preservation efforts rather than damaging water resources.

Changhua Medical Alliance member Yeh Kuang-peng (葉光芃) said that as climate change continues to affect the environment, the eutrophication situation in Taiwan's water reservoirs is worsening.

Yeh said the EPA should develop an effective policy to protect Taiwan's water resources and should not relax EIA standards for developments.

Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Su Ching-chuan (蘇清泉), several Tainan citizens and gravel business operators support the EPA's proposal to loosen the EIA standards.

Su said Taiwan's population density is too high and the nation does not have sufficient land for developments, noting that a water reservoir watershed area is too large to remain "untouched."

Su said if the government keeps forbidding development in reservoir watershed areas, it will harm Taiwan's economic development.

There are 96 water reservoirs in Taiwan, the EPA said, noting that given Taiwan's watershed areas cover over 100,000 hectares in total, over the past few years many county governments have asked the EPA to relax the environmental impact assessment standards for local project developments.

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