By Chen Wei-han / Staff reporter
The Executive Yuan yesterday approved an amendment to the Mining Act （礦業法） that would require quarries to obtain the consent of Aboriginal communities, but the exemption of Asia Cement Corp （亞泥） from the revision prompted criticism from Aboriginal and environmental groups.
The bill, which would be the largest revision of the act in years, would adopt regulations of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act （原住民基本法） that require governments and businesses to seek the consent or participation of local Aboriginal communities when developing Aboriginal territory.
However, an Asia Cement quarry in Hualien County’s Sincheng Township （新城） would be exempt from the proposed regulations because the Bureau of Mines in March extended its mining rights for 20 years, bureau Director Hsu Jing-wen （徐景文） said.
The amendment includes an environmental impact assessment mechanism that would require quarries larger than 2 hectares with an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes or more to complete an assessment within three years of the legislation going into effect.
That means only six quarries — three in Hualien operated by Asia Cement, Formosa Plastics Group （台塑集團） and Rong Feng Industrial Co （榮豐工業）, and three in Yilan County run by Ruentex Group （潤泰集團） and Idah Co （宜大） — would be required to complete an environmental impact assessment, Hsu said.
A total of 60 smaller quarries would have to complete a different assessment within five years of the legislation going into effect, he added.
Asked about the Asia Cement quarry being exempted from seeking Aboriginal consent, but not from an environmental review, Hsu said the amendment should not affect the bureau’s earlier decision because “the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act does not have regulations permitting retroactive application.”
The amendment would also impose an extraction limit for each quarry, which authorities would be able to adjust according to demand.
About 20 percent of cement produced in the nation is exported and the government wants to reduce that figure to 15 percent, Hsu said, adding that a potential shortfall in cement production could be solved with imports.
The amendment would also remove a clause from the Mining Act that requires the government to compensate mining companies for rejected renewal applications, Hsu said, adding that only Taiwan and South Korea have the “unreasonable” compensation requirement.
The amendment stipulates a benefit sharing mechanism that would require oil and natural gas field operators to divert between 10 and 50 percent of a field’s profits to local communities, while quarries would be required to pay 5 percent to 20 percent.
Aboriginal and environmental advocates said the amendment is inadequate.
The Indigenous Youth Front criticized Asia Cement’s exemption, saying that as the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act was promulgated in 2005, it should be applicable to the company’s extension this year, but the bureau approved the renewal without requiring it to obtain the consent of Aborigines.
“The amendment is a fake reform and is effectively protection [for mining companies],” Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan researcher Huang Ching-ting （黃靖庭） said.
The environmental review stipulated for smaller quarries would not follow the Environmental Protection Administration’s review mechanism, which would allow quarries in geologically sensitive areas to circumvent a stricter review, Huang said.
Bureau of Mines Director Hsu Jing-wen speaks at a news conference in Taipei yesterday after the Cabinet approved an amendment to the Mining Act. Photo: CNA