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Environmental “hot potatoes” in 2013
Posted By Nick Choo On January 28, 2013 @ 7:59 am In Columns | Comments Disabled
POLITICIANS today ignore environmental issues at their peril. The year 2012 saw major environmental protests against controversial projects in Malaysia. Thousands protested against the Lynas  rare earth refinery, the use of cyanide  at a gold mine in Pahang and the multibillion petrochemical complex in Pengerang , Johor. In Sarawak, indigenous peoples reluctant to be uprooted from their ancestral homes to make way for the Murum Dam  mounted a blockade at the site for almost a month.
It is heartwarming to witness the rise of resistance from environmental groups towards potentially hazardous mega projects in this country. Our citizens are asserting their rights, and holding governments and corporations accountable to the people and the environment.
With the general election looming, activists will likely ramp up their respective campaigns. What environmental “hot potatoes” will politicians have to deal with carefully this year to avoid public anger and opposition?
The Lynas rare earth plant has been a major rallying point for environmental issues. Himpunan Hijau successfully staged several anti-Lynas rallies in 2012. There was a protest in Kuantan  in February 2012, a 300km march from Kuantan to Dataran Merdeka  in November 2012, and a rally at the refinery ’s door step on New Year’s Eve.
It is unlikely the protests will stop there. Despite the opposition, Lynas Corp  began production in November 2012 after obtaining the official Temporary Operating License (TOL) from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board  (AELB) in September 2012. Federal ministers  have repeatedly claimed the company must ship its waste abroad, but Lynas Corp  insists there is no such requirement under the TOL.
It remains to be seen whether Lynas  will be able to recycle its low-level radioactive waste into safe commercial products. It can also help sooth public concerns by being transparent about its waste management process. As the regulator, the AELB must also play its part to ensure the company deals with its waste safely and responsibly. Many activists, however, are still adamant the plant should be shut.
Sarawak mega dams
It may be too late to stop the Murum Dam, but I think campaigners still have a fighting chance to pressure the government to scrap the upcoming Baram Dam. The 1,000MW hydropower project will displace some 20,000 natives currently living in Baram  and submerge 412 square km of forests – nearly double the size of Kuala Lumpur.
Indigenous people in the hornbill state formed the Save Sarawak Rivers Network (Save Rivers ) in February 2012 to oppose the dams. The activists travelled to Australia  last year and successfully pressured state-owned dam operator Hydro Tasmania  to stop assisting Sarawak Energy Bhd. Activists have been visiting villages to mobilise the people and Radio Free Sarawak  has been disseminating information via its short wave radio.
The Sarawak government proposes to build a total of 12 mega dams under its Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE ) plan to “transform Sarawak into a developed state” by 2020. However, the Bruno Manser Fund, an international charity, criticised SCORE in its November 2012 report as an “outdated” development plan. A policy paper published by the National University of Singapore  in March 2011 also doubted SCORE’s viability.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud  has not bowed to public pressure to halt controversial projects. Nevertheless, the state’s indigenous peoples are increasingly bitter with his administration. They have already lost thousands of hectares of native customary rights land to loggers and plantation companies over the past few decades. Now, their homes are at stake due to the hydroelectric dams. Taib’s administration cannot afford to ignore the growing public dissent if it intends to stay in power.
Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC)
The PIPC is an ambitious project to turn Pengerang into a petrochemical hub. Petronas is investing RM60 billion to develop the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID ) project at the complex located at the southern tip of Johor. Some 3,000 residents from seven villagers, mostly fishermen and small-business holders, will have to be relocated to make way for the complex. A protest was held against the Pengerang  project on 30 Sept 2012.
Environmentalists are also concerned that KuoKuang Petrochemical Technology Co  will revive its controversial project, cancelled by the Taiwanese government in 2011, in Pengerang. A 2010 Chung Hsing University  study found that the average lifespan of people living near the petrochemical project may be shortened by 23 days due to pollution. More protests may be in the pipeline if the government allows the Taiwanese company  to resurrect its project here.
Moving towards sustainable development
An increasingly discerning electorate coupled with growing environmental awareness means that governments and corporations can no longer get away with sloppy environmental management. Instead of being defensive, the best way forward for the state and businesses is to engage the public proactively and be transparent about the details of the projects.
After all, if the mega projects are truly beneficial to local communities and harmless to the environment, they should be able to withstand public scrutiny, right?
Gan Pei Ling  hopes the growing environmental resistance will help push the nation towards a more sustainable development path in the long term.
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URL to article: http://www.thenutgraph.com/environmental-hot-potatoes-in-2013/
URLs in this post:
 Lynas: http://www.thenutgraph.com/what%E2%80%99s-wrong-with-a-rare-earth-plant-here/
 cyanide: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/207732
 Pengerang: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/protest-begins-against-petronas-rm60b-pengerang-project
 Murum Dam: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/213019
 Kuantan: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/190308
 Dataran Merdeka: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/215072
 refinery: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/217771
 Lynas Corp: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/production-starts-at-lynass-malaysia-plant/story-e6frg9df-1226527449868
 Atomic Energy Licensing Board: http://www.mysinchew.com/node/77298
 Federal ministers: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/216357
 Lynas Corp: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/216454
 Lynas: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/217060
 Murum Dam: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/13/malaysia-dams-idUSL3E8M95YQ20121213
 Penans: http://archives.thestar.com.my/services/printerfriendly.asp?file=/2012/10/16/sarawak/12175733.asp&sec=
 Baram: http://www.stop-corruption-dams.org/campaign_update/?show=5
 Save Rivers: http://www.savesarawakrivers.com/about/
 Australia: http://saveriversnet.blogspot.com/2012/11/23-november-2012-for-immediate-release.html
 Hydro Tasmania: http://ens-newswire.com/2012/12/05/hydro-tasmania-to-withdraw-from-sarawak-dam-building-program/
 Radio Free Sarawak: http://radiofreesarawak.org/
 SCORE: http://www.sarawakscore.com.my/modules/recoda/page.php?id=100&menu_id=6&sub_id=114
 National University of Singapore: http://www.spp.nus.edu.sg/docs/energy-case/%235-settling-the-score.pdf
 Abdul Taib Mahmud: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/209353
 Pengerang: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/210319
 KuoKuang Petrochemical Technology Co: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/litee/malaysia/article/taiwan-oil-refiner-mulls-controversial-pengerang-plant-denies-pullout
 Chung Hsing University: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/204682
 Taiwanese company: http://asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4718&Itemid=236
 Gan Pei Ling: http://www.thenutgraph.com/who-are-we#peiling
 Can local govt elections protect public interest and the environment? : http://www.thenutgraph.com/can-local-government-elections-protect-public-interest-and-the-environment/
 Development? Really? For whom?: http://www.thenutgraph.com/development-really-for-whom/
 The terror of government silence: http://www.thenutgraph.com/the-terror-of-government-silence/
 Lynas: What’s the fuss?: http://www.thenutgraph.com/lynas-what%e2%80%99s-the-fuss/
 PR Manifesto: Sustainable?: http://www.thenutgraph.com/pr-manifesto-sustainable/
 Zemanta: http://www.zemanta.com/?gp-related-posts
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