EARTH Thailand

Planned law changes criticised

Bangkok Post 14 October 2009

The cabinet yesterday approved changes to environmental legislation despite claims by activists that they would do little to solve the problems associated with the Map Ta Phut industrial estate.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Section 51 of the National Environment Act 1992 would be amended so project operators must also conduct health-impact assessments (HIA) and hold public hearings, as well as environmental-impact assessments (EIA).

The draft amendments were intended to meet the requirements under Section 67 of the 2007 Constitution, he said.

Section 67 requires public hearings for projects seen as harmful to the environment and public health. It requires the government to set up an independent agency to advise on such projects. That agency has not been set up yet.

The changes will be forwarded to the National Environment Committee within three weeks and later to Parliament for approval. The government will issue interim regulations in the next two to three weeks, said the premier.

The draft amendments prepared by the Council of State state that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry must publicise projects that may have harmful effects on communities.

Impact assessments are required to cover the potential effects not only on the environment and natural resources but also on public health in the community, and a public participation process will be mandatory.

The Environment Committee is also required to appoint experts on the environment, natural resources and public health to take part in the impact analysis.

The National Environment Office is required to send impact analysis reports to existing independent organisations on the environment that have registered with the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. The independent organisations must complete their suggestions within 90 days and later propose them to the cabinet for approval.

If the organisations reject the proposals, the National Environment Office would be required to prepare a revised report and again ask for suggestions from independent organisations.

The Administrative Court on Sept 29 halted 76 government-approved projects after environmental groups filed a complaint that the pollution would hurt the public, and that Section 67 prohibited their approval. The government is appealing the decision.