VI. PROBLEMS IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF PLANNED ENVIRONMENTAL MEASURES
G. Availability of, and access to, anti-pollution technology: the case of palm oil and rubber industry discharges
The battle between economic development and environmental conservation can be seen in the way Malaysia has chosen to tackle the problem of effluents from the processing of two commodities, palm and rubber, that are vital to its foreign revenue earnings. The two industries accounted for about 90 per cent of industrial pollution. Control was exercised through licensing based on the polluter pays principle, i.e., charging effluent-related fees for discharges in excess of levels stipulated. Imposition of those charges grew stricter with the advancement of appropriate treatment technology over a period of six years. The approach taken by the government showed an acute sense of balance between the need to develop a vital primary industry while at the same time providing incentives, through the fees collected, to research institutes to come up with appropriate treatment technologies. The tolerance to pollution levels by the two industries was progressively raised as the technology became accessible.
The same cannot be said of technology for controlling and combating pollution from other sources. The technology is not available or, if obtainable, it is too expensive to operate. Thus it is not viable, especially in the case of SMIs, which form a large percentage of the industries located in Kuala Lumpur. In addition, the Cabinet has shelved an air pollution control plan that was proposed by the Department of Environment, on the grounds that it was too expensive and would pose a threat to the competitiveness of the Malaysian industrial sector.
The Environmental Quality Act, 1974, provides for a clause called "acceptable conditions" to be included in the management and control of environmental quality. In effect that means the director-general of the Department of Environment can, at his discretion, allow industries or companies to lawfully contravene the Act if there are no practical means ensuring compliance or if the cost incurred will be prohibitive in relation to the size of the operation. Therefore the issue now is not just whether technology is available, but also whether it is feasible to apply that technology.