EARTH Thailand

Firms will have to bear more costs

The Nation 26 January 2010 | Pongphon Sarnsamak

Private companies will be responsible for any risks they incur while seeking licenses for new projects before the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry comes up with a final list of activities that might have serious environmental impacts, the Federation of Thai Industries said.

Even though firms can conduct Health Impact Assessments (HIA) for the eight activities listed by the Industry Ministry, they would have to conduct more assessments once a much-longer list is produced by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. This could mean extra expenditure and project delays.

"The Industry Ministry's list contains some risks, but if you stick with it you might face legal complaints because civic groups are against this list since it was completed without a public hearing. To avoid such risks, all companies that have plants located in Map Ta Phut should comply with the Constitution's Article 67 (2) regardless of their industry type," Sakesiri Piyavej, a representative of the Federation of Thai Industries, said.

He was speaking to the 400 industrialists who had gathered yesterday to learn about the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's announcement of how Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and HIA would need to be conducted for projects that might damage the environment and health. The business sector is confused about whether it should follow the list released by the Industry Ministry on September 29 or wait until the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry comes up with a final one. The new list should show them which activities need HIA as well as an EIA and a public hearing.

Environmental Impact Evaluation Bureau's director Suchaya Ammaralikit said the final list should be released by April.

Suchaya also said last week that the National Environmental Board had agreed to add more experts to the panel reviewing EIA and HIA. These experts should come from non-governmental organisations, educational institutions and individual experts on health and environment.

Meanwhile, director general for the Department of Industrial Work's Bureau of Water Technology and Industrial Pollution Management, Chumpon Cheewaprapanunt, voiced concerns yesterday about the lack of budget for public hearings, which the department is required by the Constitution to conduct before issuing any operating licenses. Each project will need at least Bt400,000 to Bt500,000.

He said this lack of budget could be overcome by increasing the fee for operating licenses under the "polluter pays" principle.

Realising that stricter rules are needed, the department has also set up a special unit to make sure that private firms strictly follow the EIA and HIA regulations. Private firms are also expected to report to authorities every six months.

Chumpon also said that the Industry Ministry was working closely with the four-party panel led by former PM Anand Panyarachun to come up with a list of harmful activities.

The panel is working on two lists, one of which contains 19 damaging activities put forward by engineer and senior pollution expert Thongchai Phansawat, who works as an adviser to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

The items included in the Industry Ministry's list are: upstream and downstream petrochemical plants; nuclear power plants; underground mining; lead and zinc mines; dissolving chemical-based minerals and upstream steel production with a daily minimum capacity of 20,000 tonnes; industrial estates for upstream steel production or upstream to midstream petrochemical plants; dumping sites and kilns for hazardous waste; and fossil-fuel power plants (except gas-fired plants) with a minimum capacity of 100 megawatts.

In a related development, Hannarong Yaowalert, a member of an ad-hoc committee given the job of setting up a temporary environment and an independent health body, said the list of committees related to environment and an independent health body would be announced by March.