Environmental panels for impact study to be dissolved
Critics fear move aimed at pushing approval for Bt350bn water projectsThe National Environmental Board (NEB) will dissolve three expert panels that study impact assessment reports for government projects and other activities, in a bid to end what officials say is a double standard in such reports for state projects versus private-sector projects.
A prominent environmentalist worried that the plan to dissolve the panels was aimed at speeding up the approval process for the government's Bt350-billion water-management projects, which require environmental and health impact assessments.
Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) secretary-general Santi Boonprakub said his agency had proposed dissolving the three panels at an NEB meeting chaired by Deputy Premier Plodprasop Suraswadi on Monday. The NEB had agreed with the ONEP in principle to dissolve the panels.
The ONEP was told to resubmit its proposal to NEB within 15 days.
The first of the panels studies environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for development projects proposed by the government; by state enterprises; and those proposed jointly by the government and private sector. This panel is chaired by Saengchan Limjirakal.
The second panel studies EIA reports on transportation projects proposed by the government; by state enterprises; and jointly by the government and private sector. This panel is chaired by Prasong Eiam-Anant.
The third panel studies EIAs |for water-resources development. The panel is chaired by Santad Somcheewita.
"There are many [discrepancies] relating to important conditions such as the criteria and period to study the EIA reports for government projects versus private-sector projects," Santi said. For example, there was no deadline for government projects to submit EIA reports to the panel, while the private sector must submit EIA reports to the panel within 105 days, he said.
There are 19 environmental expert panels under the NEB that study EIAs for projects conducted by the government and private sector. The establishment of the environmental expert panels was done in compliance with the Enhancement and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act BE 2535.
The three panels would be dissolved in the near future, but the rest of the expert panels will be charged with studying projects conducted by the government and private sectors, Santi explained.
He insisted that the plan to dissolve the three panels would not affect ongoing government development projects such as dams and Skytrain extensions.
"Don't worry that government projects will get the green light from the panel more easily. I personally think the consideration for EIAs for projects conducted by the government and private sector will be tightened," he said.
In addition to asking the NEB to dissolve the three panels, ONEP will submit a "roadmap" report to the NEB on improving the process of conducting EIAs.
Harnnarong Yaowalert, head of the Integral Water Management Foundation, criticised the plan to dissolve the three panels, saying it could pave way for the government to speed up a green light for water-management projects under a massive budget of Bt350 billion, which is funded by loans.
"I don't care if the government dissolves these three panels. What worries me is that the government might put in its own men to replace the outgoing panel in order to speed up the process of approving EIAs, which is a key step in deciding whether to move forward on projects," he said.
The NEB previously removed representatives from civic groups from all of its environmental expert panels. This deprives the panels of information or concerns of people who would be directly affected by government projects, he said.
Santi said the dissolving of the three panels would not pave the way for speeding up the process of approving the government's Bt350-billion water-management project, adding that his agency would use strict criteria to study the EIA report for both government and private-sector projects.