EARTH Thailand

Govt moves to end Map Ta Phut saga

Bangkok Post 01 September 2010

Cabinet approves list of harmful industries

The government has taken another step towards ending the Map Ta Phut saga by approving a list of 11 industrial activities deemed harmful to the environment.

The list was proposed by the National Environment Board.

The approval yesterday came two days ahead of a scheduled court decision on a case filed by environmentalists and Map Ta Phut villagers to have the operating permits of 76 industrial projects revoked for their alleged failure to comply with Section 67 of the constitution.

Section 67 requires projects with potential environmental and health impacts to conduct impact assessment studies, public hearings and consult independent agencies before going ahead.

The lawsuit led to the court's injunction to suspend the 76 projects last September. The court later released 40 projects, leaving 36 on hold.

To obtain a clear definition of the types of projects that are required to follow Section 67, the government assigned a four-party panel, chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, to draft a list of harmful activities and propose it to the National Environment Board for approval.

The NEB last Monday listed 11 types of industrial projects deemed harmful to the environment, narrowed down from the 18 types submitted to it by the Anand-led panel.

The projects include petrochemical industry expansion, all types of mining, power plants, dams and airport runway expansion.

After cabinet endorsement of the NEB-proposed list of 11 harmful activities, the next step is to have the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry declare them harmful activities in a ministerial regulation.

The move has irked Map Ta Phut residents and environmentalists who accuse the NEB of trying to protect the business sector by excluding some types of projects from the list.

The Eastern People's Network yesterday submitted a petition to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva asking him to revoke the list and draft a new list with full participation from the civil sector. The network also threatened to ask the Administrative Court to look into the legality of how the list was endorsed.

Mr Abhisit said the NEB was considering whether another three industrial activity categories should be regarded as harmful, in addition to the 11 approved for the list.

They are projects located in areas that might affect World Heritage sites, historical parks and forest reserves; those which involve the building or expansion of permanent buildings offshore; and those at tourism spots.

Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti said the ministerial regulation on harmful activities was expected to be finalised this week. He said there was no need to add new activities to the list because it had been carefully scrutinised by the NEB.

Attapol Rerkpibool, PTT's executive vice-president for communications and social affairs, declined to comment on the list, saying the group was still waiting for the court ruling tomorrow on the fate of its suspended projects.

"Regardless of whether our projects will be considered harmful, PTT is still committed to completing the health impact assessments of all of our 25 suspended projects," he said. "At the end of the day, it is the court which will rule on whether our projects can proceed."

Nandor von der Luehe, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, said it was vital for Thailand to lay down clear environmental regulations, including a list of harmful projects, to give clear guidelines to investors so they can make business plans.

"We are looking forward to hear the court ruling on Thursday on the suspended projects [in Map Ta Phut]. If the projects can resume operations, of course it will give investors some confidence," he said.

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce welcomed the endorsement of the harmful list. "Even though some uncertainties remain, approval of the harmful list is considered a major positive step taken by the government," said Fukujiro Yamabe, a vice-president of the JCC, Bangkok.