EARTH Thailand

Fast-tracked EEC poses ‘risks environment, social unrest’

The Nation 29 May 2017 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

Article 44 invoked to rush EIA process, but academics warn special rules will violate people’s rights in affected area.

ACADEMICS and experts have warned of worsening environmental problems, unrest among affected people and violations of the Constitution after the junta passed an order using the sweeping Article 44 of Interim Charter to shorten the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for the new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued order 28/2560 on Friday to boost the efficiency of EEC development by setting up a special expert panel for environmental assessment of projects in the special economic zone and speed up the overall EIA process to within one year.

Silpakorn University lecturer and expert on industrial development in the Eastern region Somnuck Jongmeewasin said that special rules for environmental impact assessments in the EEC zone violated people’s rights and disregarded the environmental aspect of developments.

“How can the EIA process be done properly within one year to ensure good environmental protection from projects, when it takes one year already just to study the EIA?”, Somnuck said.

“This is just a tactic to force the EIA consideration to pass. Within such a limited timeframe, the specialist committee will be unable to read all the reports and will just let it pass. This is a serious |violation of people’s rights and environmental protection.”

He said that proclamation of this rule by wielding special |powers would also put pressure on specialists considering the EIA report. If they did not allow the assessment to pass, it may hurt their careers, since they would be seen as slowing down the EIA process contrary to the government’s prime policy to rapidly develop the new EEC.

“I see the order as intended to reassure investors that they can start their projects within one year. Earlier, the NCPO also issued order 9/2556, which allows investors to find a construction contractor during the EIA process. When the EIA is passed, they can start their building project right away,” he said. 

‘Violates constitution’

“I suspect that this order violates the current constitution, as Article 58 stresses that the government has a duty to protect the environment for the people and conduct a proper EIA process in all environmentally harmful projects. This order also violates Article 77 that requires all regulations to pass a Regulatory Impact Assessment.”

Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand director Penchom Saetang warned that the shortened EIA process would intensify the already abysmal environmental problems in Eastern Seaboard provinces.

“These provinces have already suffered serious environmental problems from existing industrial development in the Eastern Seaboard project, which began 30 years ago. This is because at the beginning of the Eastern Seaboard project, EIAs were not carried out, so the region is now severely |polluted,” Penchom said.

“Not only do I think that the EIA process should not be rushed, but I also suggest the government |conduct a strategic environmental assessment on the region in order to select the best options for development.”

She said there should be assessment of whether industrial development in the EEC was truly worth the impacts on the people and environment, as it was still not clear whether economic prosperity from the Eastern Seaboard project was justified in the face of environmental degradation and people’s ill health in the region.

Somnuck also warned that rushed environmental assessments may stir up public anger, with construction projects delayed by protests if people lose faith in the process.

However, EEC secretary-|general Kanit Sangsubhan claimed that the shorter EIA process would not affect the quality of environmental protection, as it would allow the specialists who consider the EIA to work closely with |people doing the report and address clearly what is needed to consider a project.

“The current EIA process is slow because the specialists have to read a very long report, instead of just some essential information. This new regulation will let the report makers know what the really important information they have to study is, so they can skip the unimportant matters, which will speed up the process,” Kanit said.

He said most of the focus industries in the EEC were clean high-tech industries, which did not need to pass the EIA process, so there would be a very low impact on the environment.

“We need to ensure the |confidence of investors that they can progress their projects [promptly]. This is why we have to guarantee a specific timeframe so that they can start operations. Otherwise, the EEC will not attract investors and all of our efforts to boost the economy will fail,” Kanit said.