Last week Robin Winkler, whose energy and commitment to The Beautiful Isle I deeply admire, was allegedly punched during a protest by a local elected official. Taiwan Headlines has the call:

Environmental groups protested outside the Environmental Protection Administration on Monday morning to condemn the agency for siding with the Formosa Plastics Group on a proposed steel plant that they fear would take a heavy toll on the environment.

They also vowed not to let “gangster politicians” rule the country after an activist was assaulted by an elected official at a meeting held to review the plant’s environmental impact.

Protesters held placards claiming “the EPA is an affiliate of the Formosa Plastics Group” on the agency’s building and held up banners reading “people are feeling insecure due to black gold politics” and “don’t allow gangster politicians to rule the country.”

The protesters argued that the agency should not shelter the Formosa Plastics Group, which wants to build a 7.5-million-ton capacity steel plant in Yunlin County.

The investment project is still being assessed by the committee.

“We know that the EPA must have felt huge pressure in dealing with the steel plant project. But the government should never side with a conglomerate whose carbon dioxide emissions account for one-fourth of all of the country’s emissions,” said Green Party Taiwan Secretary-General Pan Han-sheng.

The protest was held after lawyer and environmental activist Robin Winkler was assaulted by Yunlin County Council Speaker Su Chin-huang during an EPA meeting at its offices last Wednesday to review the project.

Winkler, also a former member of the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee, participated in Monday’s rally.

“I’m feeling better physically, but I’m feeling bad mentally,” Winkler said. “The government didn’t show any concern for environmentalists who were beaten by gangster politicians. It seems to say that it is OK to beat environmentalists without having to be held accountable.

“Now most environmentalists live in fear, and we don’t dare walk in stairwells alone,” Winkler said.

He urged media workers not to report the story as a war between himself and Su - who has a criminal record that includes corruption, sexual assault and crimes against personal liberties - but to focus instead on the relationship between the EPA and the Formosa Plastics Group.

There’s further discussion in Chinese on the Wild at Heart blog:

朋友警告我要小心,因為我現在是環保署眼中的麻煩人物,當他們無法安撫你、收編你,他們就會開始設計你。其實,與會的地方民代和漁民,都是為了雲林好,所有的意見都應該是對事不對人。但環保署「維持秩序」的方式就是,只顧到「會議順利進行」,並且往他們期待的方向進行討論,只要在「會議室」之外的,像茶水間這樣的地方,就與其毫不相干。「有證人你自己找出來」、「警察不能作證」,施暴者被保護在會議室內,不讓當事人當面對質,而任其無聲無息的離去。

Video of the event is online at Hemidemi. More reporting in Chinese, with a photograph of the massive bruise on Robin. Of interest is the long lag between the event and its appearance in the English media; Feiren and Maddog were both emailing me about it days ago. Why the delay? Yu, BTW, denies the assault.

The Formosa Steel plant, said to cost $4.1 billion, is going in at the mouth of a river in Yunlin as part of a huge, malign development project that represents the ultimate in Old Economy, Taiwan. The Sousa Dolphin blog has more information on the issues with the EPA’s handling of the case.

After hearing the reports from the developer and its government sponsor, the Industrial Development Bureau, one of the commissioners requested that the representative of an environmental group be allowed to speak. The EPA chief of the EIA section, Tsai Ling-yi, then prompted the representative of a local township to speak out in favor of the project.

After a closed door discussion by the commissioners and other government agency representatives it was announced that the committee would “respect” the decision of the previous committee and send the case to the plenary commission with the recommendation that it go into second phase evaluation.

The EPA’s lack of objectivity in handling the case has been cited numerous times and following the meeting this morning it was learned that the EPA plans to include this case in the plenary meeting which is scheduled to be held on the afternoon of 1 October 2007. This sudden burst of “efficiency” comes despite numerous requests from commissioners (sixth and seventh terms) that commissioners be given materials regarding all cases that are to be discussed and decided upon seven days in advance of the meeting. There has also been no public announcement of the meeting or its agenda as of close of business 26 September 2007.

The associated petrochemical plant, a naptha cracker, got in trouble in August for overusing water but the EPA rescinded the fines over the strong protests of legislators and other government organizations. I blogged previously on the EPA, environmental impact assessment, and government-business collusion at a conference earlier this year where Winkler gave an extensive presentation on the process of approval for the projects….

Similarly, Winkler had reviewed 4 projects relating to the Mailiao Development projects, the eighth naptha cracker (for plastics manufacturing), the Formosa Plastics plant, a steel plant [the one in question above -- MT], and a port. The Dolphins had come up as an issue, since they live off the west coast where the project was being carried out. Studies by the Council of Agriculture showed that the dolphins came up only to the sandbar south of the port — meaning that they would not have to be considered by the project. But, as Winkler pointed out, other work, very easily found, showed that Sousa was known north of the sandbar and north of the project itself. That information somehow didn’t appear in the reports appended to the EIA, an omission which Winkler described as “bordering on criminal.”

The post is long and the description of the problems involved in assessment of large projects like this one is, I think, worth a read (I don’t normally plug myself but I’ll make an exception here).

UPDATE: Wild at Heart has a translation of a great editorial on the insanity of building more steel plants in Taiwan:

The FPG steel mill project threatens nearly two-thirds of Taiwan’s clam hatcheries, the important aquaculture business, and Taiwan’s Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. This is part of the price we will pay.

Taiwan’s petrochemical, steel, concrete, and paper industries have consumed more than 30% of Taiwan’s energy production in recent years. Yet these industries have accounted for less that five percent of Taiwan’s real GDP during the same period. In 2005, they accounted for just 2.49 percent of GDP. Taiwan is the world’s biggest producer of steel per square kilometer. Can Taiwan, a tiny island nation that is virtually 100 percent dependent on imported energy, afford to continue developing this extravagantly polluting industry with its profligate energy requirements given the heavy environmental burden it already bears? Should we let FPG, which produces one third of Taiwan’s carbon emissions, go on lining its pockets, destroying the environment, and preying on the weakest among us?