by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: lienyuan lee/WikiCommons/CC

PLANS TO CONSTRUCT a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal off the coast of Datan, Taoyuan have been controversial, seeing as construction will threaten seven-thousand-year-old coral reefs. Environmentalists have been organizing for the preservation of the reefs, which run along 27 kilometers of coastline, since 2014. 

As part of the push for the preservation of the reefs, environmentalist groups in the area sought to organize a local referendum on the issue. Environmentalists have warned that the destruction of the reefs threatens Taiwan’s biodiversity; the reef is home to wildlife including the endangered green turtle, shark species, the moray eel, and crabs.

The issue became co-opted by the KMT, however, after the party threw its weight behind the referendum in February 2020. The subsequent increase in support for the referendum allowed it to clear the necessary benchmarks to be put to the national vote, although the petition campaign was previously experiencing difficulties getting the number of signatures needed to be held. 

Ironically, the construction of the LNG terminal was originally proposed when the KMT held power, and the KMT has only latched onto the issue as a way to attack the DPP. The LNG terminal, then, proves one of the many issues that the KMT and DPP have swapped places on between when they held power and when serving as the opposition, seeing as pan-Green politicians previously opposed the LNG terminal. 

Contention about the LNG terminal continues, with the current proposal for its construction having failed to clear an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) earlier this week. The CPC Corporation, the state-owned petroleum, natural gas, and gasoline company that intends to construct the terminal, has been asked to go back and provide further documentation on fourteen points of concern raised by a panel of experts. That being said, some experts were not opposed to the construction of the LNG terminal. 

Bus station in Guanyin District, near where the bus terminal is located. Photo credit: Shxpeng/WikiCommons/CC

The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has tried to allay concerns about the reefs, stating that it has reduced planned construction for the LNG terminal by 90% from original plans advanced under the KMT. Likewise, the MOEA has stated that the terminal is needed as part of larger, long-term planning for energy transition in Taiwan toward renewable forms of energy, while also phasing out nuclear energy. Though it has not come up prominently in the public debate regarding the LNG terminal, the DPP likely also has security concerns regarding Taiwan’s LNG supply in the event of a Chinese invasion in mind. 

There have been some indications that the MOEA’s arguments have had some success in deterring opposition, with some prominent public figures changing their position on the LNG terminal. To this extent, the KMT’s support for the referendum against the terminal has led environmentalists who had already long been involved in protests against the LNG terminal to be tarred by association with the pan-Blue camp. This had furthered splits in the environmental movement. National referendums in Taiwan are most frequently leveraged on by opposition parties for electoral purposes; it is unlikely that referendums would take place on a bipartisan or nonpartisan basis. 

The MOEA surprised earlier this week by announcing new plans for amending construction of the LNG terminal, shortly before the EIA. The MOEA has been questioned about whether this was politically motivated. The new proposal would relocate the LNG terminal 455 meters further away from the coast, with government officials suggesting this alternative in March, though this would delay completion of construction by two-and-a-half years and add between 15 and 75 billion NT in costs. For their part, environmentalists have expressed skepticism of whether this new plan would have any substantive impact in preserving the reefs. 

It may be that the Tsai administration intends to adopt a strategy of attempting to take the wind out of the sails of the referendum campaign against the LNT gas terminal. This is very probably why the new proposal was made at the last minute. This would be in the hopes of convincing voters that enough has been done to preserve the reefs, and that continuing to push for a referendum vote against the Tsai administration is only to unwittingly serve the interests of the KMT. It is to be seen whether the referendum campaign against the LNG terminal gains or loses traction, then. 

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