To implement its “sustainable generation” policy, the EPA strives to improve Taiwan’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system in four areas: an exit mechanism for approved EIA cases, old EIA case processing guidelines, ensuring timely EIA reviews, and improving EIA supervision for better efficiency of law enforcement. All of the above are expected to open up a new chapter for the EIA system, which has been in operation for over three decades in Taiwan.
Aiming at the long-term benefits of national development and to ensure that equal importance is placed on both environmental protection and economic development, the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (環境影響評估法), promulgated in 1994, mandates that environmental considerations be included during the planning stage of projects, and prohibits violators from continuing their activities. The goal is to achieve sustainable development.
To this end, establishing a precise and efficient EIA system is the principal means to reach a “sustainable generation”, one of the EPA’s six policy focuses. Enhancing the functions of screening development activities and the credibility of EIA reviews are essential for an efficient EIA system. Measures that have been implemented or are currently being promoted by the EPA are as follows:
1. Exit mechanism for approved EIA cases
(1) Developers can submit exit requests: On 2 July 2015, the EPA issued a statement specifying that developers can apply for the annulment of EIA review conclusions according to the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法).
(2) Provisions for invalidation of administrative actions stated in review conclusions. According to Article 93 of the Administrative Procedure Act, the review conclusions shall include the following provisions: "if the development activities of the case have not started within 10 years after the announcement of the review conclusion, the review conclusion shall become null; the developer can extend the validity of the review conclusion once if the case is approved by the industry competent authority and passed on to the EPA; the extended period shall not be over five years.” On 22 May 2019, the EPA sent a mandate concerning this regulation to Taiwan’s local governments.
2. Old EIA case processing guidelines
(1) Strengthening inventory and control: For controversial large-scale projects that have obtained permits but have not initiated development activities for over three years, the competent authorities can, if they deem necessary and based on Article 16-1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act , request the developers to submit analyses of differences in environmental conditions and reviews of response measure reports.
(2) Measures based on Articles 18 and 23 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act : For EIA-approved projects, competent authorities can, based on the regulations, require developers to submit environmental impact survey reports and response measures if there are environmental impacts that have not been predicted during the EIA or that newly appear. Such requests can be brought up multiple times depending on the particular environmental problems and until such problems are properly handled. Developers not complying with such requests are subject to penalties according to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act.
For controversial large-scale projects with no development activities for over ten years, the competent authorities can issue requests requiring developers to conduct environmental surveys in advance. They can, according to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, further ask developers to submit environmental impact survey reports and response measures.
(3) After inventorying, 67 cases were listed as old EIA cases, which were subsequently audited in two phases in 2019. In the first phase, 19 projects that had been suspended (including controversial ones) were audited. In the second phase, 48 projects that had passed the EIA reviews but had not initiated development activities for over ten years and had not obtained permits from the industry competent authorities were audited. The audit results were:
A. Operations resumed: Five projects in total. The competent authorities continued to carry out EIA inspections.
B. Development activities discontinued: 13 projects in total. The developers had been urged to apply for review conclusion annulment as soon as possible. Also, the EPA conducted EIA inspections from time to time in order to urge developers to file applications to be taken off the EIA list. To date, the EPA has announced that review conclusions of two cases have been annulled.
C. Operations continued: 45 projects in total (including 13 projects whose operations were suspended). The developers deemed it necessary to continue development operations after review. EIA inspections will be conducted once a year to assess the development activities. Additional measures include:
(A) For the 13 projects whose operations were suspended, if the operations are resumed, the developers are required to regularly submit environmental impact survey reports in accordance with Article 18 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act.
(B) For the eight projects that had passed the EIA for ten to 15 years but had not obtained permits from the relevant industry competent authorities, should operations take place in the future, developers may be required to submit environmental impact survey reports based on environmental conditions in accordance with Article 18 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. Such environmental conditions include environmental impacts that newly appear or were not predicted due to insufficient assessment or investigation, such as air or water pollution or unforeseen impacts to ecosystems.
(C) There were a total of 24 projects that had passed their EIAs but for over 15 years had not obtained any permits from competent authorities. The current environmental conditions surrounding these development sites might be different from those that were present when the original environmental impact surveys were conducted. If the developers resume or start operations in the future, they are to refer to the statement issued by the EPA on 22 May 2019, which stated that review conclusions become ineffective for EIA-approved projects that have not begun operations for over ten years. The developers will then be ordered to regularly submit environmental impact survey reports in accordance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act Article 18.
D. Developers dissolved: a total of four projects.
3. Ensuring timely EIA reviews
(1) The principle that the project groups shall hold a maximum of three preliminary review meetings to enhance rectification quality and review efficiency was implemented.
(2) The opinion-gathering meetings and onsite observations were carried out. The EIA committee’s project groups went to development sites to conduct onsite observations and hold meetings to fully gather opinions from local residents and civic organizations. The responses of the developers to these opinions were listed and supervised by the EPA.
(3) The 2018-2019 EIA Technology Consulting Organizations Evaluation Plan was implemented to establish an objective and differentiating EIA survey system, enhancing the quality of EIA documents.
4. Improving EIA supervision to increase efficiency of law enforcement
During 2019, the EPA conducted EIA inspections by listing EIA cases in different inspection categories, setting up a reporting system, implementing project inspection committees, and organizing expert meetings. Besides employing sounding rockets and other technology for air quality assessment, the EPA held seminars on EIA regulations and operations to inspect and urge developers to adhere to their EIA commitments, and improve professional capabilities and two-way communications. The purpose was to enhance the overall EIA system, and urge developers to properly carry out what is stated in the EIA documents and review conclusions, elevating efficiency of EIA inspections and law enforcement.
Excerpt from Environmental Policy Monthly, 23 (7)
- Environmental Protection Administration, R.O.C.(Taiwan)