Taipei, July 15 (CNA) Over 500 trucks and motorcycles blocked the road outside the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and nearby streets Sunday to protest a recently passed amendment that would demand higher emission standards for vehicles.
Chanting slogans of "anti-discrimination" and "wanting to survive," the protesters, mostly owners and drivers of aged diesel-fuel trucks, were angered by an EPA policy they said would lead to the elimination of vehicles produced 10 or more years ago.
"Old cars are innocent," roared the protesters, gathered by the Left Party and a national self-help association of aged truck and motorcycle owners, saying they were strongly opposed to the practice of "forcible elimination."
Among revisions to the Air Pollution Control Act passed on June 25 was one that said vehicles 10 years or older would be subject to stricter emission standards, without detailing the new standards that would apply or when they would be implemented.
The EPA said in a Q&A section on its website two days later that it planned to require diesel trucks 14 years and older to meet the Level 4 emission standard by 2020, angering truck drivers who got the impression their old vehicles would be forced out of service.
Level 4 refers to one of the five emission standard levels for diesel trucks in Taiwan based on the age of the vehicle, with higher levels representing tighter standards.
The weakest emission standard is Level 1, applied to vehicles produced before June 30, 1993. Level 2 to Level 5 are for vehicles produced or imported from July 1, 1993 to June 30, 1999; July 1, 1999 to Sept. 30, 2006; Oct. 1, 2006 to Dec. 31, 2011; and Jan. 1, 2012 to the present.
Yen Kun-chuan, a Kaohsiung representative of the self-help association, believed the tougher standard would force the elimination of the older vehicles and make it impossible for self-employed truck drivers to make a living.
He suggested the government buy new vehicles for them and allow them to repay the purchase price with an interest-free loan, much like a student loan.
The drivers would repay the loan with a third of their earnings, Yen said, but the government should not collect loan payments from drivers who did not turn a profit.
Left Party representative Lin Shen-ching said the groups were not against the government's efforts to improve air quality, but he noted many cargo truck drivers are in business with their own vehicles.
With the cost of a new truck easily reaching NT$4 million (US$130,000), "no drivers can afford it," Lin said, urging the government to focus on controlling emissions from factories instead of "taking action against small civilians."
The EPA responded Sunday by saying that to give truck owners enough time to meet the revised air pollution control requirements, the administration has decided that older diesel trucks would not have to meet the tougher Level 4 emission standard until 2023.
For now, the EPA said, older vehicles would only have to meet the emission standards that are already in place.
Hsieh Ping-hui, an EPA official in charge of air quality and noise control, said the administration has submitted a low-interest loan proposal to help truck owners replace highly polluting diesel-fuel vehicles with ones that meet the latest emission standards.
Under the proposal, the EPA would work with banks to offer loans with interest rates of 3 to 5 percent, with the administration subsidizing 1 percentage point of that.
The proposal, which would be carried out from when it is approved to until 2022, will be funded to the tune of NT$17 billion, Hsieh said.