Proposed Algal Reef Referendum Breaks 500,000 Signatures, Vote Set for August

News Compiled and Reported by Taiwan Weekly


The proposed “Cherish the Algal Reefs” referendum initiated by environmental groups passed the 500,000 signatures mark on March 4 and broke 540,000 on March 6, far exceeding the legal threshold of 290,000. A referendum is expected to be held on August 28. However, it was unexpectedly reported that Minister Chen Chi-chung of the Council of Agriculture had planned to meet with environmental groups on March 8 for discussion. The move has raised suspicion that the government’s friendly gesture is only attempting to appease those concerned.


Regarding the rumor, the referendum campaign team issued a statement during midnight on March 7, claiming that since they are busy preparing for the referendum, they currently will not be available for any other meetings, and apologizes for not being able to attend the meeting on March 8." Pan Chung-cheng, the leader of the referendum campaign, also emphasized that the establishment of the proposed referendum case will be inevitable, and the case will not be withdrawn. The signatures will be submitted to the Central Election Commission before March 19, as had been scheduled.


Pan, the petitioner of the Action Alliance for Rescuing Datan Algal Reefs, indicated that the referendum on cherishing and protecting the algal reefs has entered its final stage of signing and will be sent to the election committee before March 19, as scheduled. The only re-quest is for the construction team to immediately stop all maritime projects, in order to avoid irreversible damage to the algal reef ecosystem. This is in line with the promise made by Deputy Secretary-General Lee Chun-yi of the Office of the President on June 16 of last year.


He also said that the conclusion of the communication platform meeting, which was in-structed by President Tsai Ing-wen on June 4 last year, should go through some kind of hearing. There should be no more excuses, and should be carried out immediately. In addition, if the government were sincere, then it should hold a formal hearing on this case, and open a transparent policy dialectic mechanism. That would be the result environmental groups would want the most. Those who have signed the cherish algal reef referendum come from diverse backgrounds, and cannot be categorized as singular political affiliation. They urged the people concerned to stop manipulating the political divide, label mobilization, and stop ruining opportunities for deepening Taiwan’s democratic progress.


The cumulative number of signatures to the proposed algal reef referendum exceeded the 500,000 mark on the evening of March 4. The algal reef referendum campaign stated that the joint signatures poured in like snowflakes every day, representing that the people of Taiwan cherish their land and are determined to protect the environment.


The algal reef referendum team reiterated its stance on non-nuclear coal reduction in saving the algal reefs. As the algal reef referendum is about to be concluded, they hope that the government can communicate openly and honestly with the people, aiming at various alternative plans and energy policies after the relocation of the CPC’s third gas station in Datan area of Taoyuan. They should openly share all the evidence and numbers, providing citizens opportunities to think rationally and grasp the opportunity for Taiwan's democratic transformation.


Minister of Economic Affair Wang Mei-hua stated on March 4 that if the algal reef referendum passes, it would cause the delay in the construction of the CPC Corporation's natural gas receiving station, which may increase coal consumption by 5 million tons. Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen criticized that such remarks as threatening and unethical and that the government should not inflict fears among the people in the region.


Lu said that she hopes that the central government can achieve the best of both worlds by preserving algal reefs, caring for the environment, and reducing coal and carbon consumption. The people across the country should not be forced to choose between one or the other.


The Tsai administration has set the goal of implementing a non-nuclear homeland by 2025. Spokesman Luo Bing-cheng of the Executive Yuan stated that the nuclear reduction policy is an aim to achieve a non-nuclear homeland. In constructing a third receiving station in Taoyuan, the goal is to increase gas and reduce coal, reduce using coal to generate power, and improve the air pollution problem. This is the reason for the increase of gas generators and the reason why they hope that the third receiving station can be completed as scheduled. If the third receiving station policy is terminated, it would  have to be installed in other locations, delaying the timing for more than a decade, which might result in power shortage.


Luo stated that Taiwan needs to allocate power supply as a whole. Power supply in the north is very important because of the Hsinchu Science Park. If there were power shortages, it may need to send power from the central and south to the north, but there are risks when connection power grids. Luo said that energy development and environmental protection are often in a tense relationship. The government has the responsibility to clarify how to achieve a balance and also should have detailed plans to avoid risks.


Spokesman Chang Chun-han of the Office of the President stated that although various circles have provided opinions, the current plan is the most suitable solution for power supply demands at this stage. The people have the right to express their opinions and the government fully respects them. Even if the referendum case is established, the government would still sincerely communicate with all circles and explain the policies. According to Chang, the algal reef issue is not a struggle between environmental protection and the economy, but a dialogue and choice between the environments.


The Datan algal reef conservation case will be the first ecological conservation referendum in Taiwan’s history initiated by a private sector, and its significance should not be underestimated. The algal reef is located on the coast of Guanyin, Taoyuan. It is not only a rare reef in the world, constructed mainly of shell-shaped coral alga, but also the largest and purest existing shallow algal reef ecosystem in Taiwan.


The Datan algal reef has been designated as a wildlife sanctuary and an important habitat in Taiwan in accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act in 2014, and it is forbidden to change or destroy the original natural state. In 2017, CPC Corporation planned to build the industrial port of the third natural gas receiving station on Datan algal reef. It had passed the environmental assessment and is now in the construction phase. Environmental groups believe that construction here will permanently damage the ecology, therefore, they launched a referendum on reef protection.


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