Protesters step up fight against petrochemical complex

Taipei, Sept 27 (CNA) Over 1,200 demonstrators staged a rally in Changhua County Monday to oppose building a petrochemical complex on the county’s coast, but the government said the protesters were barking up the wrong tree.

Holding up placards and banners outside the county government’s offices, the protesters said the facility would cause irreversible damage to local flora and fauna, destroy the natural habitats of marine life, and ultimately jeopardize the livelihoods of local farmers and fishermen.

“Changhua County produces at least half of Taiwan’s agricultural products. The coastline is also home to Taiwan’s indigenous pink dolphins, which are facing extinction. The discharge of carbon dioxide and other heavy metal chemicals from the plant will undoubtedly destroy the local ecosystem, ” said Tsai Chia-yang, chairman of the Changhua Coast Conservation Action.

Monday’s protest was the biggest among the string of rallies held by environmental groups to oppose Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Corp.’s plan to build the country’s eighth naphtha cracker in the county.

The county government mobilized over 500 police officers to maintain order.

The protesters also projected that the complex would emit 16 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year and consume 400,000 cubic meters of water per day — an impossible burden for a county that is already fighting the depletion of its sources of water, said Shih Yue-ying, a longtime opponent of the project.

Monday’s protest lasted for over two hours before the deputy magistrate Chang Jui-bin appeared to accept the protesters’ petition. Chang made no promises to the crowd except to agree to deliver the petition to the magistrate.

While activists warn the 2,773-hectare facility will cause irreparable environmental damage to the area, the government has vouched for the project, saying it would generate revenues of NT$460 billion (US$12.6 billion) and create 18,000 new jobs directly and 357,000 jobs indirectly.

The county government released a statement later in the day criticizing the protesters for barking up the wrong tree and saying they “would get better if they familiarized themselves with the facts.”

According to the statement, the project was initiated in 2003 by former County Magistrate Wong Chin-chu of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who lobbied Formosa Plastics and Kuokuang Petrochemical to set up shop in the county.

The investment project was approved in 2004 by the Cabinet and remained unopposed under the watch of four DPP premiers, so it was “shocking” that Wong was one of the protesters Monday, the statement said.

The county urged the protestors to be vigilant so that “their diligent effort to protect the environment will not be manipulated by politicians who can’t make up their minds,” the statement said.

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