Minister calls for higher environmental standards

Advancing Thailand’s economy should not come at the expense of clean air and water, the Kingdom’s Environment Minister told a public hearing convened last week discuss a draft plan to manage the environmental impacts of the Eastern Economic Corridor development zone, adding that authorities must pursue environmental protection at a higher level.

“All development must have impacts and we have a duty to limit them. We will get more money from the EEC, but exchanging that for unhealthy air quality and a dirty environment. Would that be okay?” Minister for the Environment, Surasak Kanjanarat rhetorically asked those who attended the hearing.

The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) is a three-province area just east of the capital Bangkok that will be home to 10 advanced industries the government will support and promote as part of Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy to transform the Kingdom’s economy and society into ones driven by innovation, higher and green technologies.

Some of the area has already been a home for major industrial estates that powered Thailand’s development from a rural agricultural economy into a manufacturing powerhouse in Asia. However, along with raising incomes, standards of living and gross domestic product growth, some environmental and pollution problems arose.

While the EEC’s industries should in general be “greener,” manufacturing and industrial development always produce a range of impacts and green and environmental activist groups, along with area residents, question how sensitive to the ecology EEC development will be.

Minister Surasak lent credence to their concerns, implying that the standards used in the past to protect the environment were not tough enough.

“To prevent problems, we should pursue environmental protection at a level higher than we have before. If we remain at the same level, I, for sure, can say our environmental management plan will not be successful,’’ Surasak said.

The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) has developed an environmental plan for the EEC covering the present through 2021. The public hearing was called to consider and debate the plan before its eventual submission to the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha later this year.

The plan’s goal is to ensure cleaner production and support natural resource conservation for sustainable development. It mandates that factories conduct initial environmental examination (IEE) reports and then provide environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and environmental and health impact assessment (EHIAs).

The plan also insists that officials must improve the standards they use to approve the assessments.