Since its promulgation in 1994, the Environmental Impact Assessment Act has undergone three revisions and has gradually become Taiwan’s main legal mechanism to prevent and lessen negative environmental impacts brought by government policies or development activities. The EIA evaluation procedures draw everyone’s attention to various environmental issues due to socioeconomic and environmental changes, advancing technology, more complex development activities in recent years, and increasing regional limitations. The EPA announced its latest amendment of the Act in September 2017, which now includes 66 articles in total. The Plan has six focuses: upgrades of incinerator equipment; promotion of regional cooperation; offshore garbage disposal; improving the effectiveness of environmental installations; supervision of garbage clearance; and circular economy policies.
Ten revision directions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act
The EPA strives to prevent and mitigate negative impacts on the environment caused by government policies or development activities by building a legal framework, raising public credibility of EIAs, and establishing a precise and effective EIA system.As a result, focuses for the revised Environmental Impact Assessment Act proposed by the EPA in 2017 include:
Strengthening the effects of EIA within policies; improving competent authorities’ roles and functions; specifying EIA principles of recusal; specifying regulations for EIA document rectification and extension; reevaluating the effective periods of EIA results and effectiveness of development permits; regulating how developers modify application or revocation of EIA results; revising EIA’s supervising mechanisms; adding development activities that should undergo EIAs; adding regulations regarding mandatory assessments for EIA technical consulting firms. With references from the National Affairs Conference on Judicial Reform, regulations are set to require developers to return monetary gains from violating mandatory obligations. A whistleblower clause and a reward system are also set to encourage internal employees to report any violations. Also, developers should disclose all original information about current environmental conditions and information obtained from various environmental monitoring carried out during development activities.
Improvement of EIA efficiency and public credibility
The EPA aims to use EIAs to fully screen development projects, and raise its efficiency and the public’s trust. As a result, various improvement strategies and measures have been proposed for EIA revisions, which include promoting adjusted administrative procedures and amending the Act and relevant subsidiary regulations. Details, future directions, and promotion timetables are as follows:
1. Revising the EIA system
(1) Revisions and Announcement of the Working Guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessments for Development Activities (開發行為環境影響評估作業準則 ) on 8 December 2017:
In order to simplify the first EIA phase, the EPA will implement and link national regional plans with zoning and categorizing controls in future spatial plans, as well as adjust investigation tables for environmentally sensitivity zones. While investigating current environmental quality conditions based on their own development activities, developers are required to use the latest government-disclosed data or representative public data accumulated by other entities over a long period as priority quotes. Reasons for not quoting existing said data during onsite investigation should also be provided. Also, to enhance the second EIA phase, developers are required to evaluate conclusions based on environmental impact statements and screen key environmental elements and factors before the scope of assessment is defined. Guideline tables for scopes of assessment are revised as well.
(2) The revised Standards for Determining Specific Items and Scope of Environmental Impact Assessment for Development Activities ( 開發行為應實施環境影響評估細目及範圍認定標準 ) and the Environmental Impact Assessment Enforcement Rules ( 環境影響評估法施行細則 ) were announced on 11 April 2018:
The determining standards in the latest revision are intended reexamine the levels of environmental impacts brought by development activities. While activities with bigger impacts are required to undergo EIA, those with smaller impacts will be regulated by the respective industry competent authorities for the relevant regulations. The overall goal is to implement reasonable mandatory EIAs for different activities. Details are modified in accordance with the revised determining standards, and divisions are adjusted for EIA jurisdiction as well.
(3) Promotions and revisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act continue:
Revision focuses include strengthening EIA functions within government policies to simplify procedures for individual development projects and enhancing the roles of industry competent authorities. It also includes specifying the EIA mechanism for document rectification and extension; examining the effective periods for EIA results; implementing EIA tracking and supervising mechanisms; and balancing other environmental regulations. The goal is to establish a clear and efficient EPA system and enhance public trust and evaluation efficiency. In 2017, the EPA preannounced the draft revisions on 20 September and organized six public hearings in October and November. Legal experts and scholars were invited to attend consultation meetings on 16 and 27 March 2018, and meetings were held on 6 August to review EIA operations as well as collect opinions from regional environmental bureaus and meeting attendees.
2. Ensuring timely EIA review procedure
(1) The EPA took over the EIA Review Committee’s Project Group Opinion-Gathering Meeting and Onsite Observation Plan ( 專案小組意見陳述會議及現場勘察計畫 ) beginning August 2017. It also revised the Plan, newly requiring notifications sent to town halls in regions impacted by development projects as well as those deemed necessary to be invited to meetings because of unique project characteristics. Town halls and neighborhood and village chiefs were asked by official letters to notify residents or organizations living nearby and in development-impacted regions. The EPA held public meetings to gather people’s and various groups’ opinions before the review committee convened EIA meetings as well as to ensure proper responses by requiring developers and relevant authorities to respond to the opinions through official letters. Between August 2016 and February 2018, a total of 29 meetings and observation operations were conducted on 42 cases so that concerned local residents and groups could express their thoughts on development projects.
(2) The project group will hold a maximum of three meetings for preliminary reviews and will no longer accept document rectification to enhance rectification quality and review efficiency. For the majority of all EIA cases undergoing preliminary review meetings since May 2016, the EPA has been able to reach suggested conclusions within three meetings.
(3) The current document review procedure continues while the format of review opinions is adjusted to focus on tracking responses to previous opinions. This is done to drastically decrease the number of review opinions brought up in preliminary review meetings in order to enhance review efficiency.
(4) Developers are to apply once a month only for document rectification or extension. If developers fail to rectify necessary documents before the deadline, or if the rectifying documents do not comply with regulations, or have an unspecified reason for extensions, the EPA will reject the application to ensure the EIA review proceeds in a timely fashion.
(5) Taking the EIA review cases of 22 offshore wind energy projects evaluated in 2017 as an example, the EPA completed the preliminary review stage for 19 cases within six months and provided suggestions that they should pass EIA reviews. It not only demonstrated high EIA efficiency, but also met the EPA’s goal of finishing an EIA review within six to 12 months. Moreover, the EPA completed and passed the two-phased EIA evaluations for the 3rd and 4th stages of the Central Technology and Science Park, displaying the practical effects of the EPA’s strategy on improving review efficiency.
The EPA notes its aim to adjust the current administrative procedure with EIA system enhancement strategies and strives to revise relevant EIA regulations and raise screening functions and review efficiency. It hopes to achieve the goal of sustainable development in the areas of environment, economy, and justice via cooperation between the private and public sectors.