The environmental problems at Map Ta Phut
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The environmental problems at Map Ta Phut

Have already blogged (here and here) on the Supreme Administrative Court decision upholding an injunction against 65 projects at the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate noting that Thailand’s economy will face a significant hit because of the decision. Deputy Prime Minister Korbasak has also warned that 40,000 may lose their jobs, but there is another aspect to consider regarding the decision and that is there are significant environmental problems because of previous projects. Then Thanong claimed that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would be the biggest loser in a nonsensical op-ed for The Nation.

However, previous projects have caused significant environment problems as summarised in this blog post:

The Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate is located in the Rayong province and consists of 117 industrial plants which include 45 petrochemical factories, eight coal-fired power plants, 12 chemical fertilizer factories and two oil refineries. Operations began in 1990.

About 25,000 people live in the Map Ta Phut municipality. In 1997, the pollution came to public attention when 1,000 pupils and teachers at a local school suffered from illnesses after inhaling toxic emissions and had to be hospitalized. A independent test carried out in 2005 demonstrated that airborne cancerous toxic chemicals released by Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate exceeded safety standards of developed nations by 60 to 3,000 times. In 2007, tests conducted on 2,177 Map Ta Phut residents between June and August showed that more than 300 of them had unusually high levels of benzene. Tests on water resources in the area surrounding the estate show contamination.

Nirmal Ghosh in a blog post for the Straits Times:

The hyperbole from government and corporate circles is all because of a group of local citizens who first became concerned over heavy industry moving into their backyards — and then angry when their concerns were ignored and health problems proliferated among them.

Finally, Thomas Fuller for the NYT also has an article on the court decision. This excerpt sums up BP’s feelings:

Even among critics of the court decisions, there is widespread agreement that Map Ta Phut is heavily polluted and unhealthy for those who live nearby. But environmental experts remain skeptical that the court decisions will fix the problem.

The injunction stopped new projects, but older, heavily polluting plants were allowed to carry on. The rulings require the government to write a new set of environmental laws. But what Thailand needs, experts say, is not new laws but better enforcement of existing ones.

In rural areas, there is almost no enforcement at all,” said Anthony Zola, an American environmental consultant. “Water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution — you can make all the complaints you want, and no one pays any attention to you.”

BP: It should be noted that investors themselves didn’t breach the law as the NYT also notes:

Lawyers for the companies say the most galling aspect of the injunction is that they could not possibly comply with the law because detailed regulations have yet to be written, a problem that the government acknowledges.

The generals who carried out Thailand’s 2006 military coup promulgated a new Constitution that strengthened environmental law, requiring detailed studies before the approval of any project that causes “serious impact” to the environment or people’s health.

But “serious” was never defined, and specific guidelines for companies were never drawn up, partly because government officials had been distracted by Thailand’s continuing political turmoil.

“Right now, companies don’t know which way to turn,” said Sivapong Viriyabusaya, a partner in Bangkok at the law firm Baker & McKenzie, which is representing companies affected by the injunction. “They want to comply, but they cannot because there are no rules.”

BP: One could blame the Abhisit government for this, but then one could equally blame Surayud, Samak, and Somchai governments. However, BP blames the constitutional drafters. They have put in a number of aspirational rights in the Constitution, but no government can implement them now. More on that at 8am.