Special LegCo Session of 6 October 2009, regarding the EPD’s AQO proposal
Yesterday, the Environmental Affairs Panel of LegCo held a special meeting to hear the public’s feedback about the EPD’s Air Quality Objectives proposal. In this public session, 39 organizations and individuals, including green groups, bus and aviation companies, political parties and community concern groups, made statements expressing their views on air pollution. In a nutshell, the speakers unanimously agreed on the importance of making progress on cleaning up HK’s air pollution. But, of course, stakeholders such as transport companies, qualified their support for the environment with many caveats.
In its deputation, CAN underscored the importance of a timetable and the fact that residents of HK are fed up with having their health subordinated to private sector interests. Clear the Air, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth urged the government to adopt the most stringent WHO guidelines, the Air Quality Guidelines, and state a timetable for implementation. Civic Exchange asked for the Chief Secretary to improve cross-bureau integration in Government to drive faster reductions in emissions. Similarly, the Civic Party and Democratic Party urged the government to adopt the WHO AQGs and update the old bus fleet as soon as possible.
While the transport companies were surprisingly supportive of cleaning up air pollution and the tone of their remarks was conciliatory and helpful, all of them flagged the crucial importance of allocating the costs of abatement among the various stakeholders – the rider, the public purse and the operator. KMB and Citybus remarked that modernization of the bus fleet would create wastage, due to premature retirement of vehicles, resulting in additional financial burdens.
Several bus companies mentioned that District Council members frequently block bus route rationalization, sidestepping discussion of the phase-out of older buses. In our view, this focus on the difficulties of bus route rationalization less important than the larger, crucial issue of quicker vehicle replacement. Modernization of the bus fleet is the key to reducing the most dangerous roadside emissions. Prioritization or cutting of some bus routes will not be sufficient to protect public health. Ferry companies expressed concern about the increased cost of switching to environmentally friendly fuels. Like the bus companies, they mentioned the key issue of “cost sharing”.
Three deputations concerned specifically the air pollution problem created by the construction of a cement factory at the old Kai Tak site in Tokwawan. Although this concern was clearly a side bar, it raises flags about HK’s general failure to manage air quality properly through the existing regime, both legal and regulatory.