Proposed Mining Act Amendment Sidesteps Environmental Laws, Indigenous Rights

Proposed Mining Act Amendment Sidesteps Environmental Laws, Indigenous Rights

What you need to know

If passed as expected, the DPP will have to defend the Mining Act to a skeptical public.

Asia Cement’s mine in Taroko Gorge was constructed on indigenous land seized during the Japanese colonial period.

Outrage has broken out regarding a proposed, long controversial draft amendment to the Mining Act which would allow mining companies to sidestep environmental regulations and or measures taken to provide for indigenous rights.

In particular, this has led to arguments in legislature between Democratic Progressive Party legislator Lin Shu-fen ((林淑芬), known for progressive stances on social issues, fellows Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) and Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩), as well as deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua (王美花).

What is controversial is that the draft amendment calls for the Bureau of Mines to accept requests to renew mining permits from quarries that already have mining permits without need for another approval process. In this way, it is feared that the Bureau of Mines will come to act as a rubber stamp for existing mines, allowing their mining permits to be renewed over and over.

In this way, mining companies would be allowed to avoid environmental oversight or protection measures for indigenous rights. Mines which obtained permits before the 1993 Environmental Impact Assessment Act, including the controversial Asia Cement mine in Hualien on protected indigenous land, will be allowed to continue operating without need for an environmental assessment.

The absurdity of this measure should be apparent. The Mining Act dates from 1930, so this means that many mines would be allowed to continue operations without oversight from modern environmental protection measures simply because these mines date back to before these measures were developed.

If environmental safety measures are to be limited to pre-1930 measures, should these mines be limited to using the level of technology which existed in 1930?

In this light, the DPP’s proposed draft amendment appears to entail overwhelming capitulation to corporate interests such as Asia Cement. The draft amendment to the Mining Act is vaguely anti-science and it suggests that the DPP will forget completely about environmental concerns in favor of corporate interests when needed.

The draft amendment also only furthers the hypocrisy of the DPP in claiming that it seeks to realize transitional justice for Taiwanese indigenous peoples when it refuses to correct the fact that Asia Cement’s mine in Taroko Gorge was constructed on indigenous land due to land seizures during the Japanese colonial period, and the mine poses substantial disruption to life today, due to the large explosions caused daily by the mine near areas where people are living.

Due to protest from environmental and indigenous groups, premier William Lai (賴清德) has promised action on the issue through the Executive Yuan. But, strikingly, the DPP’s version of changes to the Mining Act in legislature are worse than those put forward by the Bureau of Mines itself.

Furthermore the Mining Act is not the only time that the DPP has been accused of attempting to use legal measures to disable oversight mechanisms for corporations. This can also be seen with regards to past accusations from legal experts that the Forward-Looking Infrastructure Bill contained a measure which would allow the DPP or any future government to rubber stamp future government budgets. Public fallout from this led to pledges by the DPP claiming that this was not intentional.

And this would be another issue in which the DPP has proven more regressive than progressive. The DPP very likely thinks that it can get away with its actions on the issue with the view that only individuals that live near mines will be affected.

However, the DPP has in recent times severely underestimated how policy which capitulates to corporate interests in severely underestimating the effects of its own policy, as observed in disastrous reforms to the Labor Standards Act which will stand to affect all of Taiwanese working society. This will no doubt stoke anger against the DPP from society writ large, but the party seems to think that Taiwanese labor is merely one of many interest groups it can shrug off.

Outrage against the DPP will only build regarding the issue of the Mining Act as well, even among those not living in areas directly affected by mines. After all, the Mining Act is one which touches upon issues of the environment which, again, also stands to affect all of Taiwan as damage to its environment is a shared loss. The tragic death of documentary director Chi Po-lin (齊柏林), for example, was an issue that led to a great deal of public anger against the Asia Cement mine, as an issue to which Chi, an environmentalist, had devoted a great deal of energy.

The Mining Act is an issue which the DPP will have to confront in the future.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.

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TNL Editor: Morley J Weston