The Control Yuan (Taiwan’s investigatory agency) last week censured the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) and Hualien County Government for neglecting to enforce regulations on the mining industry — the newest development in an ongoing debate on Mining Act (礦業法) amendments demanded by environmental groups since March.

On March 14, Asia Cement Corporation (ACC) received approvals from the MOEA to extend its mining permit for another 20 years — despite missing environmental assessments procedures, required under the Mining Act.

On June 25, thousands of protesters marched to the Executive Yuan requesting a reassessment on the permit for ACC and amendments to the Mining Act. They also protested for indigenous land rights and demanded that government’s environmental assessment reports be made public.

A petition calling for ACC’s permit to be revoked had received over 200,000 signatures at the time of the protest — having been initiated on March 23 by the Citizen of the Earth Foundation (CET) via Facebook.

At the Oct. 12 press conference, Control Yuan Vice President Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) and Control Yuan member Lin Ya-feng (林雅鋒) said the MOEA had ignored sensitive geology and landslide problems in the areas approved for the ACC to mine. The Control Yuan officials also criticized the Hualien County Government for allowing mining activities on indigenous reserved land. Their investigative report was released on Oct. 11.

In response, the MOEA said the reform bill for the Mining Act has been prioritized and hopes to see the amendments go through the Legislative Yuan before the end of December.

Control Yuan official Lin said at the press conference last Thursday that the distance between the mine and the residences of the indigenous tribe is a mere 370 meters, and that if the mining activities continue for another 20 years, the distance could be reduced to 179 meters. “As you can imagine, people will be basically living right there [in the mine],” she said, referring to the Truku people who live in and around the Taroko area of eastern Taiwan.

In another protest held on Sept. 21, the Secretary General of Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association Hsieh Mun-yu (謝孟羽) said consultation sessions necessary under Taiwan’s Indigenous Basic Law (原住民基本法) were neglected prior to the new mining permits being approved.

Representatives of the “Against ACC, Give Back Truku Land, Self-Saving Committee” (反亞泥.還太魯閣族土地自救會) said if no amendments are made to the Mining Act by Nov. 22, which is when the ACC’s original permit expires, then the group will block the entries to the mountains starting Nov. 23 “to defend indigenous land.”

According to Control Yuan’s report, 13 mines — covering a total of 131 hectares — were situated within national forests as of August. However, the development of some mines continued long after the miners’ land leases from the council came due, with some leases even passing their deadlines by more than six years, it said.

Moreover, in renting out forest land to miners, the council had charged unreasonably low rents — about 4 percent of the annual interest of the land value — without considering the “environmental cost” of the mining, Taipei Times reported.

Editor: David Green