Activists urge new body to oversea EIA

The National Environment Board is a frequent target of protests and rallies by environmntalists. (File photo)

Activists have urged the government to come up with a better alternative for its Environment and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) process after it ordered the Independent Commission on Environment and Health (ICEH) to be axed this week.

They made the comments after the cabinet on Tuesday decided to disband the ICEH which was an independent committee to promote public participation and checks and balances in reviewing projects with environmental and health impacts.

Its decision was made after the National Environment Board recently made it clear that the committee must go, as its body and function are not mentioned in the current charter.

Penchome Sae-Tang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH), said the public and environment will stand to lose as society will lack additional views from independent bodies and feedback from local people and experts on development projects.

Currently, the EHIA process has an independent committee appointed by the authority, mostly dominated by government experts.

Ms Penchome urged the government to come up with an alternative such as setting up an expert group to take part in the EHIA process. Without public participation, development projects in Thailand will face opposition.

The ICEH was created in 2011 during the Abhisit administration to boost public confidence in the process of environment impact assessment studies. Local communities had protested against many development projects, resulting in social conflicts and economic loss.

The public sector had asked for a neutral and independent agency to study projects such as petrochemical plants in the Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong province where heavy pollution problems were reported.

After six years of work, the ICEH has provided studies on 28 development projects, most of them petrochemical projects and other large infrastructure.

Patchai Vanuvehchpong, secretary-general of the ICEH said the organisation is still doing its work, as no cabinet resolution has been made to dissolve it.

He would lodge a petition asking the government to increase compensation to staff for the loss of their jobs, as the amount mentioned so far, 2.37 million baht, is too little.

A civic group has flagged the idea of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as a replacement. Its academic backers include Decharut Sukkumnoed, of the Faculty of Economics, Kasetsart University.

Under this concept, the government will have its development concept and policy reviewed by experts and the public to make sure the concepts are feasible and acceptable, he said.

He said the government should open the floor to the public to express their views on harmful projects.

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