The public consultation for Hong Kong International Airport’s third runway project profile ends today, after only fourteen days. In light of the major flaws in the project profile that do not meet the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO), today twelve environmental groups jointly submitted their comments to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to voice their concerns about the oversights of the project proponent, the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AA). Prior to this, the twelve green groups sent a joint letter last Thursday, June 7th, urging the EPD to seek further information from the AA to resolve the problem areas with missing information or to reject the project profile outright, on the grounds that it does not comply with the EIAO.
The project profile is a crucial document that lays the foundation for the EPD to issue a study brief, a paper which outlines potential impact areas and highlights of the infrastructure project in question. If the project profile contains missing or outdated data and the EPD does not ask for supplementary information, the final EIA report will fail to reveal the actual impacts of the infrastructure project on the environment. For example, the AA has not included the most recent information on the declining population trends of the Chinese White Dolphin, nor has it included the Chek Lap Kok Marine Exclusion Zone in the list of ecological sensitive receivers for a detailed marine impact assessment. It is the EPD’s responsibility to safeguard the environment and maintain a balance between conservation and development in Hong Kong, and therefore, the EPD should justly point out the existing errors in the project profile to ensure a fair EIA process. Failure to do so will mean that the public will be misled into thinking that their health and the ecology are adequately protected.
With regards to the concerns raised last week by the green groups about the absent data on air quality, noise pollution and marine ecology, the EPD promptly responded and requested the AA provide the supplementary information on June 10th (the deadline for comments on the project profile from the EPD). According to the EIAO, the supplementary information submitted should also be made available for a new round of public consultation. The green groups have urged the EPD to share exactly what information the AA was asked to provide and the likelihood of the project profile being recalled, should the supplementary data submitted by the AA still fall short of satisfying the requirements of the EIAO.
This public consultation is a first in the history of EIA submissions in terms of the level of attention it is receiving from environmental groups, which is reflective of the amount of concern felt in society with regards to this mega-infrastructure project. Therefore, it is extremely important that the EPD should increase its transparency in explaining why the public comments are accepted or rejected in its study brief, so that the public can know whether the EPD has properly, justly and responsibly fulfilled its role in protecting the environment.
The twelve green groups are: Airport Development Concern Network, Clean Air Network, Clear the Air, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green Power, Greeners Action, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, Hong Kong Dolphins Conservation Society, Living Islands Movement and the Conservancy Association and WWF-Hong Kong