EARTH Thailand

Fast-track law on pollution

EDITORIAL, Bangkok Post 16 February 2024 


On Wednesday, environmental groups submitted a draft of the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) law to parliament. This is not the first time the groups -- comprised of EnLAW, Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand and Greenpeace Thailand -- have been trying to push this crucial piece of legislation into law.


Two years ago, a similar draft had been tabled in the former Lower House for reading, but it was thrown out as the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration treated it as a financial legislation and said it needed to be vetted by related ministries first.


Already being enforced in 30 countries, such as Australia, Mexico, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, the PRTR law aims to give locals access to data on pollution that can impact their communities and livelihoods.


The requires polluting businesses, such as factories, mines and farms, to list their overall emissions and clarify their sources so the data can be accessed by the public.


The law will provide policymakers, law enforcement agents and communities with quality data so they can better tackle pollution.


It is baffling, to say the least, that Thailand has not reaped the benefits of the law by passing it. With a plethora of air, water and soil pollution, not to mention chemical accidents in the country, it would've been better equipped to monitor pollution and prevent risks.


It is not that Thai governments have been clueless about what the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register is. Indeed, petrochemical factories in the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong province have since 2013 been forced to release their emissions data so communities can monitor air pollution.


Such a beneficial mechanism comes from years of conflicts and lawsuits between civic groups who wanted more transparency, and factories.


It is a pity that Thai governments have not followed through by forcing other pollution-producing businesses to do the same. The industry ministry only requires factories to reveal materials and pollution data under a directive.


While ministerial orders are good, the data is off-limits to the public, making meaningful pollution monitoring and community participation in environmental protection difficult.

Without quality data on pollution sources, it is no surprise that pollution problems involving toxic waste or factory explosions have been ongoing unabated.


How can communities ensure safety or be prepared for risks if they do not know about pollution sources in the neighbourhood? How can homebuyers know whether or not they will be safe?

And how can the government tackle the PM2.5 problem when the authorities cannot precisely locate pollution sources?


The only thing poorly informed policymakers can do is blame the PM2.5 problem on farmers, transport and factories.


To solve the problem, officials can only apply end-of-pipe solutions, such as making arrests, relying on artificial rain, ordering people to work from home and handing out face masks amid spikes in PM2.5 levels.


Such a dysfunction in governance cannot be allowed to go on. Lawmakers must fast-track the crucial PRTR draft legislation into deliberation. The country, the environment, and, above all, public health cannot wait any longer.