Taipei-The Cabinet on Thursday approved a draft amendment to the Mining Act to address the problematic regulatory framework for the mining sector under which developers have been able to sidestep laws governing environmental impact assessments (EIA) and indigenous rights for decades.
If the amendment passes the Legislature, requests for a new mining license and renewal of operating licenses granted for larger mining projects will be subject to a rigorous review of likely environmental impacts in accordance with Article 5 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act.
A larger mining project is defined as a mine that has produced more than 50,000 tons of ore on average every year for the past five years.
That would cover six mine sites owned by Taiwan's mining giants, including the limestone quarry in Xinchengshan near Taroko National Park in Hualien County operated by Asia Cement Corp., Hsu Jing-wen (???), chief of the Bureau of Mines under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), said at a press conference.
According to Hsu Ming-hung (???), chief secretary of the bureau, the six mining projects are among 66 mines in excess of two hectares in size that began operation without being evaluated for potential environmental impact before the Environmental Impact Assessment Act was introduced in 1994.
The 60 smaller mine projects that produce less than 50,000 tons of ore a year will be required to go through a less strict review process based on Article 28 of the Act, Hsu Ming-hung added.
Out of 228 mining permits issued nationwide, only 28 mining projects have passed an EIA review because the 1994 act applied only to projects larger than two hectares, he told CNA.
The long-standing problems with the Mining Act recently came under the spotlight in March when the MOEA approved a 20-year extension of Asia Cement's mining rights in Xinchengshan.
That decision came at a time when lawmakers vowed to overhaul the law that has been criticized for being heavily skewed towards the mining sector.
A notable example was Article 47 of the law under which mineral rights holders who fail to secure the right to use land through settlements with landowners in a designated mining area are permitted to commence mining projects after depositing the necessary funding to compensate landowners.
The article, along with Article 31 which entitles mine developers to claim compensation for losses incurred by denial of license renewal, was removed from the amendment which will be sent to the Legislature for review.
In the case of Xinchengshan which produces about 4 million tons of cement per year, Hsu Jing-wen said Asia Cement must pass an EIA review within three years of the date on which the amendment to the Mining Act enters into force, or the "mine site" would no longer be designated for mining purpose.
The 20-year extension of the nation's largest limestone quarry took effect on Nov. 23 amid protests from environmentalists and Taroko people.
According to Hsu Jing-wen, the amendment allows Asia Cement to continue with its existing mining practices when it undergoes EIA review.
The proposed articles to address environmental issues were not accepted by environmental groups which criticized the government for "saying only empty words."
A case in point is that any mining project less than two hectares in size will be exempt from any environmental review, they said in a joint statement.
"As a result, mining projects located in environmentally sensitive areas will continue to contribute to environmental degradation," they said.
Another issue with the Mining Act lies in the fact that Article 21 of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law enacted in 2005 is not observed.
Designated mines in Taiwan largely overlap with indigenous reservations previously inhabited by indigenous peoples.
According to Article 21 of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, governments and private parties engaging in certain development activities, mining included, shall consult with aboriginal peoples and obtain their consent for planned projects.
The Executive Yuan stipulated in the amendment that requests for a new mining license and for renewal of operating licenses shall comply with that article.
However, even if the amendment passes the Legislature, the revised law will not apply to Xinchengshan, Hsu Jing-wen said.
"Since the 20-year extension of license for Xinchengshan has come into effect, it would only apply when Asia Cement needs to renew the permit next time, which is 20 years from now," he said at the press conference.
Indigenous groups expressed indignation in a joint statement, saying the amendment again sheds light on the government's disregard for indigenous rights.
"The Indigenous Peoples Basic Law was enacted in 2005. Why didn't Asia Cement have to abide by the law. That doesn't make any sense at all," they said.
Asia Cement Corp., established in 1957, is part of Taiwan-based Far Eastern Group owned by 75-year-old business tycoon Douglas Hsu (???). It's estimated that foreign investment accounts for about 20 percent of the company.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel