Citizen group condemns govt’s environmental law

A grassroot network last week blasted the government’s environmental bill, saying that it is aimed at helping investors rush through the environmental impact assessment process at the cost of the environment. They also vowed to propose a people’s version of the law. 
 
The People’s Network for Sustainable Development on 7 December 2017 gathered in front of the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission (OPDC) near Government House to protest against the Enhancement and Conservation of the National Environmental Quality Bill. The activists, who had been at the location since 6 Dec, read their demands to the government before dispersing, saying that they would come back in 100 days to hand in 10,000 signatures to the junta along with a proposed People’s Environmental Bill.  
 
Lertsak Kumkongsak, spokesperson of The People’s Network for Sustainable Development reads the Network's statement in front of the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission on Thursday.
 
Lertsak Kumkongsak, the Network’s spokesperson, said that the proposed bill reduces and shortens the process of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Environmental Health Impact Assessments (EHIA) in order to attract investors. But this is at the cost of protecting the environment and therefore degrades local people’s quality of life. Therefore, he said, citizens cannot accept this environmental bill.
 
The group’s statement states that the bill does not improve the environmental impact assessment mechanism, and contains loopholes that waive the need for an EIA. “The bill gives the cabinet the power to approve the contracting of private companies to start work while waiting for EIA results, which is against globally-accepted environmental governance principles,” read the statement of the Network.  
 
The activist group met with representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment as well as spokespeople from the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) on Thursday morning. Lertsak said that the government officials “answered citizens’ questions in the same old way” and that ONEP never incorporated citizens’ proposals into the draft. Since the government officials did not want the protest to continue, the citizens’ group and the officials compromised on three agreements:
 
First, citizens’ groups will meet with representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and ONEP to discuss which of the activists’ proposed measures are acceptable. Acceptable measures will be forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly for consideration. The citizens’ group must do the academic research in order to present their findings to the public, the government and its agencies.
 
Secondly, the People’s Network for Sustainable Development stands by its assertion that the entire law must be amended, not just the articles concerning environmental impact evaluation, which unfairly favour investors.
 
Last, the People’s Network for Sustainable Development will give the junta 100 days before coming back with a petition with 10,000 signatures as well as a new environmental law, drafted by the group and its networks, to replace the government’s version.
 
“My satisfaction with today’s agreement is at the lowest level possible,” Lertsak said. “This is the fourth time we’ve made a submission to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. This time, we got a response that was a little better. This is a negotiation between the people’s sector and the government, so we accepted these agreements without much satisfaction.”
 
After the protest, the People’s Network for Sustainable Development read their announcement aloud.
 
An official statement calling for the cancellation of the new environmental bill which does not reform EIA/EHIA.
 
Throughout the eight months of drafting the Enhancement the and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was supposed to be the agency responsible for amending the Act to reform the process of conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Environmental Health Impact Assessments (EHIA) in accordance with Article 58 of the Constitution and government policies in order to improve the country and create harmony between different parties in Thai society.
 
Yet in practice the Ministry did not do this. The Ministry skewed the process by dusting off the Environmental Act used before the Constitution and rushed to process it within 240 days under Article 278 of the Constitution, without listening to the citizens’ views. The Ministry focused on reform of the EIA/EHIA system, a point of violent contention among people that causes financial, social, environmental and livelihood damage to citizens when it is carried out nationwide on development projects such as industrial plants, mines and high-rise buildings such as condominiums and large hotels.
 
The draft Environment Act does not contain reforms that will lead to building and developing innovations to determine environmental impact reports. For example, the bill does not have regulations about Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) (even though this topic was stated by the junta leader on Feb. 21, 2016). On the other hand, the act contains a regressive loophole that waives the need for an EIA, rushing and cutting short the process. The bill even gives the cabinet the power to approve contracting of private companies to start work while waiting for EIA results, which is against globally-accepted environmental governance principles. 
 
The People’s Network for Sustainable Development would like to thank all of our brothers and sisters for supporting us in this fight. We would like to ask society to help pressure the junta to scrap this bill and reform the environmental law so that we may see a just decision-making process, protection of the environment and natural resources, and respect for the rights of citizens that are truly affected.
 
The People’s Network for Sustainable Development
Dec. 7, 2017. Government House