The National Environment Board (NEB) yesterday resolved to not appeal against the Administrative Court's designation of Map Ta Phut and nearby areas in Rayong as pollution-control zones.
After chairing a meeting at Government House, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the ruling was correct given the pollution problems in the area.
The verdict, issued on March 3, requires the strict enforcement of environmental and toxic-control measures in Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate and its surrounding areas such as Nern Pra, Map Kha, Tap Ma and Ban Chang. The NEB was given 30 days to decide on whether or not to appeal.
Local residents, claiming to be affected by pollution created by the industrial estate, hope the verdict will improve the quality of their environment.
"The announcement is a major mechanism toward setting environmental standards and raising public participation," Abhisit said.
The NEB, however, wanted to fight the ruling so it could prove that it and other related agencies were not neglecting the problems. "They have done their job, and were not negligent. This appeal would have had nothing to do with the designation of Map Ta Phut as a pollution-control area," the premier explained.
NEB's decision to not appeal goes against what the private sector has been expecting. Earlier, private operators threatened to sue the NEB board if it did not fight against the verdict, which could put obstacles to future petrochemical business expansion.
Meanwhile, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who is also a member of the NEB, said he would inform the Cabinet about the resolution today and later set up a plan to reduce pollution in Map Ta Phut and its environs. The Local Administrative Organisation will team up with the Pollution Control Department to draw up the plan, then have the provincial governor implement it. Under the plan, relevant agencies will also collect data about the sources of pollution and make it available publicly.
The environmental and health agencies also will study, analyse and assess the situation, its severity and environmental impact before designating appropriate measures, including waste management, to local agencies and residents.
The provincial governor could also issue stricter measures to control wastes being released by factories. In addition, the NEB could also fix standards to control the quality of air in the area, Suwit added.
Meanwhile, the environment minister, with NEB's approval, could ask the Cabinet to implement strict pollution-control measures, which could involve setting up a buffer zone between the industrial and the community areas. The lack of a buffer has been a problem in Map Ta Phut and is currently continuing in Ban Chang.
In a bid to check the expansion of polluting industries, the minister would also have the authority to disallow any activity that can affect the environment.
Meanwhile, Suwit said the court ruling would not affect the tourism industry or business investment, saying the verdict only controlled pollution in the zone.
The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) coordination centre's director, Decharut Sukkumnoed, said all factories located in Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate and its environs are required to improve their manufacturing standards and control the release of toxic substance into air or the water. He said local authorities would study pollution-control measures in this area before enforcing it in the entire industrial sector.
Previously, the Pollution Control Department was conducting a five-year implementation plan to reduce and eliminate pollution in Rayong between 2007 to 2011.
The plan was to find measures to reduce air and water pollution as well as industrial waste; manage, monitor and control pollution; control public health and occupational hazards; develop an industrial and community area that does not affect the environment and health; and open opportunities for people participation.
Map Ta Phut village leader Suthi Atchasai said residents were happy that the NEB had decided not to appeal and wanted to see the creation of a committee to draw up plans for local authorities. He added that the village network would organise a public forum so people can air their opinions. Moreover, they will also ask relevant agencies to speed up their examination and issue measures to strictly control the release of toxic substances, such as benzine, which causes leukaemia.