Groups call for stronger law on environment
The Nation 25 July 2017 | Chularat Saengpassa
CONCERN OVER PUBLIC HEARINGS AFTER BIOMASS PLANT OPPONENTS SHUT OUT
THE PEOPLE’S Network for Sustainable Development has demanded a better law on environmental quality after identifying several perceived flaws in a crucial environment bill.
The network made the demand regarding the Environmental Quality Promotion Bill via a statement issued yesterday.
“Section 50 of the bill has narrowed the scope of things requiring public hearings when compared with the Constitution. This section is apparently unconstitutional,” the statement said.
Section 58 of the charter stipulates that any undertaking that may severely affect natural resources, environmental quality, health, sanitation, quality of life or other essential interests of the people or community or environment requires the state to arrange a public hearing of relevant stakeholders, people and communities.
Section 50 of the bill, meanwhile, does not use the word “undertaking”, instead stipulating “projects and operations”, which the network stated would reduce the scope of what projects would require environmental and health impact assessments.
Moreover, the network complained that the bill failed to clearly specify how state power would be used. “Organic laws should be introduced to make things clearer. If authorities fail to exercise their authority [to protect the environment], it will then be possible to petition the courts,” the network added.
According to the network, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry prepared the bill without listening comprehensively to |the opinions of stakeholders.
“The ministry drafted the bill without consulting other parties. It then submitted the bill for public review via its website for just a short period of time. This is not in line with international standards,” the network added.
The network demanded that Clause 4 of the bill’s Section 4 must be removed because it allegedly created a possibility for projects to proceed with the selection of firms to implement projects prior to receiving the results of environmental impact assessments (EIA).
“Such a possibility will endanger the Precautionary Principle of the EIA,” it added, referring to an international standard applied about due caution in the implementation of such projects.
Meanwhile, local residents in Chaiyaphum’s Bamnet Narong district yesterday cried foul over a public hearing on a power plant project by Asean Potash Chaiyaphum Co Ltd.
Opponents of the project were denied entry to the venue of the public hearing yesterday morning.
Only supporters of the project were allowed to join the public hearing, which then concluded very quickly. Lertsak Khamkongsak, a coordinator of the Cultural Ecology Group, said that his group would petition the National Environment Board over the “illegitimate” public hearing.
The public hearing was held regarding the firm’s plan to operate a biomass power plant, which will rely on palm kernel shells.
The Bamnet Narong Conservation Group had no objection to a biomass power plant but expressed worry that the firm could switch back to a coal-fired power plant project without prior notice.
The firm gave up on a coal-fired plant only after its EIA was rejected three times.
A member of the group said several residents were sceptical about the firm’s biomass power plant plan because the firm had apparently favoured coal for so long.
“We are afraid that it cites biomass now just to fool us for a while,” he said. “It may turn back to coal after its EIA sails through.