New factories 'dodging green rules'
Locals near plants suffer, forum told
Given loopholes in laws, construction of new factories has kicked off before their environmental impact report has been finished which in many cases has caused environmental problems for locals, a seminar was told on Thursday.
Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth), said work began on building many factories before the Office of the National Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep) had finished reviewing the reports.
"Once factory owners go ahead with a project, locals cannot launch investigations [until the EIA report is finished]. As a result, they cannot estimate the effects of new plants on their neighbourhood in the meantime," she told the seminar, held on Thursday to mark World Environmental Day on June 5.
The environmental impact report comprises an Environmental Health Impact Assessment (EHIA), an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and an Environmental Site Assessment.
Ms Penchom said legal loopholes allow factory owners to proceed with their projects.
"No law forbids and punishes them. While Onep is responsible for reviewing the environmental impact report, the local authorities monitor land redevelopment. Both agencies follow different regulations and dodge responsibility for taking legal action against factory owners," she said.
Apart from that, Ms Penchom said the information about the environmental impact is not available to the public. "Locals must approach factories and ask them to disclose information. However, they might say an order has been given for revision or the pollution does not exceed the threshold," she said.
Factories with low capacity are another concern. Ms Penchom said they are not required to undergo an environmental impact report. "The Environment Act waives the environmental impact report for lead-melting plants producing less than 10 tonnes a day. Similarly, the Factory Act bypasses the EIA report for small factories which sort and landfill innocuous waste. However, they leak and pollute water underground water," she said.
Nicha Rakpanichmanee, a graduate student at Vermont Law School, said Thailand lags in environmental regulations. "Japan was the first country to introduce criminal penalties for those who release wastewater or pollute the air. Factories must submit annual reports known as Pollutant Release and Transfer Registry [PRTR]. State agencies must give answers to the public in 30 days," she said. "Thailand, by contrast, has yet to adopt the PRTR," she said.