Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Yang Wei-fuu (楊偉甫), who is also acting chairman of CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC), said some time ago that alternative plans could be considered for building Taiwan’s third liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal.
However, he said at a forum on renewable energy on Monday last week that Taoyuan’s Guantang Industrial Park (觀塘工業區) would be the ideal location for the terminal because building it at Taipei Port in New Taipei City’s Bali District (八里) would require land to be reclaimed from the sea, people living near Taipei Port want existing storage tanks to be moved and laying gas pipelines from the port would involve quite a distance.
In answer to questions raised about matters such as whether the third terminal would threaten colonies of the rare shallow-water coral Polycyathus chaishanensis, Yang said that CPC would propose some possible solutions.
CPC then proposed a solution in the form of a plan to transfer the coral colonies after gaining permission from the national principal authority, namely the Council of Agriculture (COA), as required under Article 18 of the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法).
CPC is clearly aware that digging protected coral out of its original location and transplanting it somewhere else would constitute what the text of Article 18, Paragraph 1 of the act calls disturbing, abusing or even killing the coral. This is why the company needs to apply for a permit under the terms of the act.
However, the exceptional conditions under which such permission may be given, as listed in Article 18, Paragraph 1, are: “when [the wildlife] population size exceeds the carrying capacity of the area; or for academic research or educational purposes and with proper approval from the national principal authority.”
At present, CPC has found nine colonies of Polycyathus chaishanensis in the area, whereas Allen Chen (陳昭倫), a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Biodiversity Research Center, has found 23 colonies.
Apart from showing that CPC’s ecological survey abilities are in need of improvement, it is also obvious that the known quantity of coral colonies does not exceed the carrying capacity of the area.
Moreover, everyone knows that CPC’s purpose for transplanting the coral colonies is to build something on that location and not “for academic research or educational purposes,” so its purpose does not comply with the exceptional circumstances under which permission may be given.
There can hardly be any doubt about this. If the COA, as the competent authority, knows that CPC’s proposal does not comply with the exceptional conditions, but goes against what the law states and grants CPC permission, allowing the company to make unlawful profits, then the COA could reasonably be accused of committing the offense of “seeking unlawful gains for oneself or for others in matters under his charge or supervision,” as defined under Article 6 of the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例).
CPC clearly knows that its plan to transplant the coral does not meet the required conditions, but it still wants to try its luck by applying for permission — or maybe it thinks that it can use its influence through various channels to put pressure on the COA.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) said in a meeting of the legislature’s Economics Committee on Oct. 18 that if anything goes wrong with the third LNG terminal, then “whoever has a hand in the problem must bear the political responsibility.”
However, CPC’s senior management must be reminded that whoever disturbs, abuses or kills protected coral must bear legal responsibility for their actions.
Local residents and environmental protection groups are sure to collect evidence and pursue whoever is to blame. They will not sit back and watch while the coral are damaged by illegal acts.
If the third LNG terminal were instead to be built on the algal reef coast of Datan Borough (大潭) in Taoyuan’s Guanyin District (觀音), it would also require land to be reclaimed from the sea. In this case, the destruction caused would be to the algal reef ecosystem, which has preserved the record of climate change on Taiwan’s west coast for more than 7,500 years and is home to a rich variety of species.
However, National Chung Hsing University environmental engineering professor Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔) said at a symposium on algal reefs that if the site for the third LNG terminal is moved to Taipei Port, it could be moved 5km offshore along with the existing storage tanks.
This would satisfy worries about safety because of the existing storage tanks at Taipei Port being too close to the coast and at the same time, resolve the controversy over the Datan algal reef.
The gas-fired Datan Power Station is supplied LNG via a 135km pipeline from the Port of Taichung, whereas Taipei Port is only 60km away from the Datan Power Station — much closer than the length of the existing pipeline.
CPC is planning to expand the Taichung LNG terminal to supply an additional 5.5 million tonnes of gas per year. Meanwhile, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) plans to use existing land at the Port of Taichung to build an LNG terminal, with construction expected to be finished in 2024, which would be sooner than CPC’s terminal.
At Taipower’s anticipated terminal, it plans to install a floating storage regasification unit, which would not require land reclamation, thereby reducing its environmental impact.
Clearly, there are many ways to increase the supply of natural gas — no one can reasonably claim that damage to the P. chaishanensis coral is unavoidable. Instead of moving the coral colonies and trying to restore them, it would be better to move the terminal to a different location.
Taiwanese can hope that CPC changes its mind and looks for an alternative plan that would make everyone a winner, instead of insisting on acting contrary to the law and even trying to drag government departments into being partners in crime.
Tsai Ya-ying is a lawyer affiliated with the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.
Translated by Julian Clegg