Quick Take: KMT takes on air pollution prior to election

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It is highly unlikely that the timing is coincidental, and follows on the heels of seven KMT central Taiwan administration heads led by Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen earlier this month taking on state-owned Taipower over coal burning at the Taichung Power Plant.  Many credit the combination of campaigning on air pollution as her primary issue and the “Han wave” for the surprise win by Lu in last November’s local elections. Commentary continues below.

From my ICRT Report:

Lu leads local leaders in battle with Taipower

With national elections only 48 days away, Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen has drafted seven central Taiwan KMT city and county heads in her escalating war with state-owned power company Taipower.

The mayor was joined by the county commissioners of Changhua, Nantou, Miaoli, Hsinchu, Yunlin and the mayor of Chiayi City.

Convening a so-called “emergency pollution control meeting”, the opposition party grouping jointly expressed their support for the mayor’s hard line against Taipower, and criticized the ruling administration’s power and pollution policies.

Mayor Lu also announced another NT$3 million fine against the firm’s Taichung Power Plant, bringing the total so far this year to nearly NT$90 million.

She also announced that a whole lot more fines were on the way, as Taipower has reached the maximum amount of coal allowed to be burned under a law passed four years ago mandating a 40% cut.

According to the mayor, any amount burned between now and January 25 will be over the legally mandated amount of 11.04 tons.

Taipower disputes this, and has been operating on a different timetable, including last week asking for permission to up the 11.04 ton limit for next year up to 12 million tons.

The reason for why the Taichung City Government and Taipower have been operating on different timetables came to light over the last week.

It turns out the operations permit documentation presented to Taipower by the city government read “starting from January 26, 2020” the cuts need to be implemented.

The city law, however, mandated that the cuts be implemented by January 26, 2020.

The accidental substitution of the word “qian” for “qi” radically changed the meaning of directive.

Taipower is accusing the mayor’s administration of continually changing the rules and said if it stopped using coal now to comply, power would go out across not just Taichung, but throughout much of Taiwan.

The mayor for now is sticking with the January deadline, meaning Taipower will have to operate over the city’s limit to keep the power on.

From Focus Taiwan:

The other air pollution sources in the top 10 list, are, in order, the coal- fired Taichung Power Plant; the Hualien plant of Asia Cement Corp; the gas-fired Da-Tan power plant in Taoyuan; Taichung-based Dragon Steel Corp; Kaohsiung-based Hai Kwang Enterprise Corp.; the coal-fired Hoping Power Plant in Hualien; Formosa Plastics Group’s sixth naphtha cracking plant in Yunlin County; the coal-fired Hsinta Power Plant in Kaohsiung; and Taiwan Cement Corp.’s Yilan plant.

It appears that years of political pressure, mostly from the Taichung City Government across three administrations, has borne fruit in pushing state-owned Taipower’s Taichung Power Plant out of the number one spot for stationary sources of air pollution.

With that success, Kaohsiung City now hosts the biggest stationary source of air pollution. From Focus Taiwan:

The Kaohsiung City government pledged Wednesday to continue to push China Steel to speed up its efforts to reduce emissions to improve air quality following a local media report that named the largest steel maker in Taiwan as the country’s No. 1 source of air pollution.

However, there is a catch:

Recent inspections show that China Steel’s emissions are all within the maximum allowable levels issued by the government, but the city government said these levels were set years ago and were designed to be lenient, in order to encourage heavy industries to continue to base themselves in Taiwan.

The city is considering lowering the maximum allowable levels to pressure polluting companies to speed up their emission reduction efforts.

Pollution is likely a winning issue for the KMT–in spite of most of the major stationary sources of air pollution have been constructed on their watch–because it is clearly both bad and under the direct control of the Tsai administration.  The DPP can only counter this argument with more complicated answers, describing their efforts towards renewable power in the form of massive investments in offshore wind and solar in the works.  The KMT has a strong counter to that: Start up the fourth nuclear power plant to reduce emissions.  That isn’t practical now that the rods have been sent back to the US, but the KMT is correct, nuclear would allow for more gas and coal-fired plants to be decommissioned–and they are backed by a referendum passed last November in favour of nuclear power.  The DPP’s response essentially boils down to Taiwan has the conditions for another Fukushima.

While this issue is a winning one for the KMT, will it matter in the end?  Maybe.  In the presidential race, not at all.  The primary issue there is what Nathan Batto calls the “China cleavage” over identity.  In the legislative races, however, it may add a percentage point or three in some heavily polluted constituencies, which may tip the scales in a very tight race or two…maybe.

Image: China Steel website

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