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Using Smart Technology to Safeguard Environmental Quality

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To safeguard environmental quality, the EPA actively promotes comprehensive smart governance. In addition to utilizing AI analysis of big data to identify potential pollution hotspots, the EPA extensively employs technological tools to systematically inspect and regulate these hotspots and manage affected areas. Moreover, regional governance is implemented in collaboration with county and city environmental bureaus and local district prosecutors’ offices under the Ministry of Justice. This allows mobilization of police and investigative authorities in joint inspections that target major environmental pollution sources and aim to crack down on environmental crimes.

Collaboration between law enforcement, prosecution, and the EPA exposes unscrupulous operators

With the rapid advancement of technology, the integration of intelligent tools into environmental law enforcement has greatly strengthened the ability to safeguard environmental quality with increased efficiency and effectiveness. From 2018 to April 2023, the Central Branch of the Bureau of Environmental Inspection (hereinafter referred to as the Central Branch) has sent a total of 34 legal entities and 454 individuals involved in violations of environmental laws in major crimes to criminal prosecution. Among them, 34 legal entities and 446 individuals have been formally charged. Comprehensive evidence gathering and law enforcement facilitated by the collaboration platform between law enforcement, prosecution and environmental protection authorities have resulted in a high conviction rate of these unscrupulous enterprises. Criminal proceeds were also confiscated, leading to a total fines of more than NT$2.08 billion as environmental justice was upheld by making offenders pay the price for polluting the environment.

In the early days, environmental pollution by unscrupulous enterprises included indiscriminate emissions of black smoke, wastewater discharge, and improper waste disposal without installing pollution prevention or control facilities. These violations were often detected and reported by members of the public, environmental groups, and volunteers before environmental authorities followed up with persistent and patient investigation. Usually pollution sources could be successfully identified. However, enterprises gradually developed sophisticated methods to evade detection and resorted to tactics invisible to the naked eye. Such practices include releasing wastewater and exhausts via underground pipes, clandestinely burying wastes in excavated pits, or using qualifications for waste clearance and recycling as a front to camouflage illegal waste disposal activities. These illicit practices greatly undermined the environmental authorities’ inspection efforts.

Inspections and law enforcement with smart technology and high-tech instruments

To cope with unscrupulous enterprises’ diversified and organized polluting activities and environmental crimes, the EPA has enhanced joint investigation techniques adopted by environmental and judicial investigative authorities. Additionally, analysis with smart technology and technology-enhanced law enforcement are employed to counter the increasingly sophisticated violations, effectively uncovering illicit behavior and gathering related evidence. Specifically, investigation staff utilizes big data and algorithms to analyze and identify high-risk enterprises, detect abnormal data, and target pollution hotspots. High-tech tools are then employed in inspections and law enforcement in order to better deter emissions of pollutants and improper waste disposal. Some the frequently used devices include water quality sensors, handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometers (XRF) with ion exchange resin, remote water quality monitoring facilities, resin time-lapse capsules, infrared thermographic cameras, gas imaging devices, and drones. Utilization of these devices is now common practice to investigate waste disposal sites and calculate disposal quantities. From 2018 to April 2023, the Central Branch used technological tools to reduce the burden on the environment brought by illicit activities, lowering volatile organic compounds (VOCs) annually by an amount equivalent to the emissions of 332,930 two-stroke motorcycles. Annual discharge of toxic wastewater into rivers has decreased by approximately the capacity of 16.8 standard swimming pools, and annual waste disposal by approximately the carrying capacity of 48,037 35-ton tractor-trailers.

The EPA emphasizes that due to Taiwan's well-connected transportation network, many remote locations in the central region, easily accessible via convenient transportation, have become popular sites for illegal disposal of wastes from Northern Taiwan. In light of this, the Central Branch utilizes big data environmental analysis, including vehicle trajectories and images, to track movements of suspicious vehicles. Once unlawful activities are detected, technology is employed regardless of day or night, rural or urban areas, to gather evidence for environmental law enforcement and promptly halt illegal dumping of waste. Moreover, if any unscrupulous enterprise attempts to secretly discharge wastewater or exhausts during the early morning or nighttime to avoid detection, it is bound to fail. Now as evidence is collected through technology, no illicit trace can escape the watchful eye of the law. If any illegal behavior is discovered, offenders may face criminal charges and hefty fines with confiscation of their ill-gotten gains. Enterprises are urged to refrain from challenging the law.

Collaboration with civic organizations for resource integration and stronger regional prevention of illegal activities

For future environmental law enforcement, the Northern, Central, and Southern Branches of the Bureau of Environmental Inspection will together continue towards regional governance using smart technology, AI analysis with big data, and other technology to crack down on unlawful activities. The EPA calls upon enterprises to strengthen self-regulation and become proactive partners in safeguarding the environment. Another focus is to enhance cooperation and collaboration with county and city environmental bureaus, as well as prosecutors, police, and investigative authorities. In addition, the EPA will further keep harnessing the forces of civic organizations to integrate resources and strengthen the regional joint prevention system so as to effectively prevent any unlawful pollution activities and safeguard environmental quality.

Excerpt from Major Environmental Policies, June 2023
Ministry of Environment