All new mines frozen as sought-after Mining Act revision gets go-ahead

The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The environment scored a victory Wednesday as the government announced that it would seek to revise the controversial Mining Act.

The Cabinet also ordered that all 42 mining license applications currently being processed be frozen until the revised act is passed, and that every mine that has not received an environmental impact assessment be examined following the amendments.

The move came after the death of filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) galvanized public opposition to an Asia Cement Corp. (亞泥) mine near Taroko National Park in Hualien County.

Explaining the decision Wednesday, Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said Asia Cement started mining in the area 60 years ago at a time when there were no environmental assessments or any designated government agency like the Environmental Protection Administration.

Asia Cement’s Hualien mine as well as some 80 other mines operated by various companies nationwide will have to undergo assessments as soon as the revised Mining Act is passed.

Passage of the revised act would likely be a priority for the next legislative session, which starts in September, Hsu said.

The Economic Affairs Ministry in March approved a 20-year extension of Asia Cement’s mining permit in Hualien’s Sincheng Township (新城), allowing it to bypass an environmental impact assessment in the process.

Criticism of the ministry’s actions intensified following Chi’s death in a helicopter crash Saturday, after which his most recent aerial photography of Asia Cement’s Hualien mine went viral. Chi said the ashen mountaintops captured in his first documentary, filmed five years earlier, were visibly deeper in the new footage.

An online petition urging the government to strip Asia Cement of its rights to the mine had collected around 40,000 signatures before Chi’s death Saturday. Since then, the number has exploded to over 100,000, according to the petition’s organizer, environmental group Citizen of the Earth.

Chi was best known for his 2013 award-winning documentary “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above.” The documentary helped expose major chipmaker ASE Group’s (日月光) rampant pollution of the Houjin River, and it was praised for awakening locals to the beauty of the island as well as the man-made environmental destruction of it over decades of rapid growth.