EARTH Thailand

PM: Pollution ruling is a threat


Delays in investment by state-owned energy giant PTT Plc could jeopardise the national economy, warns Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit: Fears for the economy

PTT's investment plans were thrown into disarray this week when the Rayong Administrative Court ruled the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong should be designated a pollution-control zone.

The court further ruled yesterday that the National Environment Board must declare the area covering Map Ta Phut, Noen Phra, Map Kha and Thap Ma in Muang district a pollution control zone within 60 days.

The ruling would have a sweeping impact on thousands of companies operating along the Eastern Seaboard. Many might be forced to upgrade their equipment or limit manufacturing activity to control emissions.

The 1992 Environmental Promotion and Protection Act requires state agencies and regulators to take urgent action to limit pollution in areas designated control zones.

Mr Abhisit, who chaired a meeting of the Board of Investment (BoI) yesterday, directed the National Economic and Social Development Board to study the environmental impact of the ruling on local communities and provide economic ministers with full study details as soon as possible.

The government requires state enterprises to accelerate new investments worth hundreds of billions of baht to help boost the sagging economy.

Sorayud Petchtrakul, an adviser to the industry minister, said the government needed to consider how to strike a balance between industrial development and protection of the environment.

The Industry Ministry is seeking opinions from the private sector and Industrial Works Department next week to develop a plan for the economic ministers, he said.

Mr Sorayud said the framework would shape guidelines for new investment plans, while projects already granted BoI incentives would see their terms extended if the court ruling imposed extra conditions on their plans.

He said the ruling could accelerate development of the proposed Southern Seaboard project as companies face heavier constraints in Rayong and other eastern provinces.

PTT, the national energy flagship, has invested billions of baht in petrochemical complexes and gas separation plants in Map Ta Phut. It also has many expansion projects with the exact schedules soon to be finalised.

PTT executives said the court ruling would definitely affect its plans as some projects would have to be delayed while it found solutions.

Executive chairman Norkun Sitthiphong said PTT would go over the details of the court verdict in a bid to revise its business plan to minimise any damage.

"We have a lot of investment projects in the pipeline, both petrochemical plants or gas separation plants and oil refineries in that area," Mr Norkun said.

"These are multi-billion-baht projects and we have put in a huge sum for some of the projects already.

"We have to hold talks with state agencies and private investors in the area as the state might have something to provide a way out for us."

BoI secretary-general Atchaka Sibunruang Brimble said the court ruling would not affect investment incentive approval.

"The BoI normally follows environmental regulations so there is no change to our consideration practices," Ms Atchaka said.