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Is ACE an environmental watch dog or a dead dog?
Today we will find out. The Environmental Impact Assessment Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE) has refused to endorse the assessment of the Hong Kong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HKZMB). The case has been passed to the full ACE meeting and it will need to decide on it today, 12 October, 2009.

The HKZMB assessment will be the acid test: Is ACE an effective environmental watchdog or is it a council of politicians who can be trusted not to rock the bridge?

(WWF has also called on ACE to reject the EIA report. Their argument: a lack of protection for the Chinese White Dolphins. Click here for more.)

Politics corrupts the assessment of air quality impact of Zhuhai bridge
The HKZMB project has strong backing from Beijing and the HKSAR Government is rushing the project. It certainly does not want any delay caused by environmental approvals.

But the project raises obvious environmental concerns: Air quality around Tung Chung is already bad and will get worse once North Lantau is opened up to road traffic from the mainland: 50,000 toll paying vehicles a day are needed to pay back the loans.

The Government, worried that someone will challenge the project on grounds that it will not meet Air Quality Objectives (AQO) when it goes ahead, now claims in their Environmental Impact Assessment that the project will NOT have ANY adverse effect on air quality at all. Unless only electric cars and bicycles will be allowed to use the bridge, that can simply not be true!

Highways Department keeps air quality data secret
The Highways Department knows what impact the bridge will have on air quality in North Lantau: Their assessment report for the HKZMB reveals that it has had its consultants do air quality modeling - but the resulting data is kept secret.

The Highways Department appears to imply that, as a result of ongoing efforts by regional governments, air quality will have improved sufficiently by 2015 so that when the bridge is expected to open, air quality including the pollution generated by the new traffic will be within the current AQOs.

Highways Department ignores the law
Highways Department has obviously forgotten the kind of assessment the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (EIAO) requires.

The Court of Final Appeal made clear in the Shiu Wing Steel case concerning an aviation fuel tank farm that it is not enough for the Government to say, "Look, you don't need to worry about this project's impact on the environment. We've already taken care of it. Trust us."

Section 4 of the Technical Memorandum of the EIAO requires a project's proponents to disclose in quantitative terms how big an impact the project will have and, if necessary, to recommend measures to keep the impact within acceptable limits.

ACE is Hong Kong's last resort - will they live up to it?
Our Government - which deliberately conceals relevant environmental information because the results might be inconvenient - is no longer to be trusted to protect the environment.

ARUP is the consultant for BOTH the HKZMB EIA report AND for the review of the Air Quality Objectives. Nothing sinister - just a possible reason why they don't rock the bridge. (How can ARUP consultants kiss their children good night and sleep well? Link to photo of Director of Environmental Protection and the Consultant - ARUP - commencing study for new AQOs)

Nor can we rely on the financiers of the bridge to protect our children. Chinese Banks - unlike some of their international competitors - are not expected to demand stringent environmental compliance. They have yet to sign up to the Equator Principles, the international benchmarks for managing social and environmental issues in project finance.

If ACE is going to do its job properly, it will refuse to endorse the Environmental Impact Assessment for the HKZMB project and it will ask the Highways Department to first disclose the impact on air quality as the law requires.

And what if ACE, our environmental watchdog, can't hold Government to it, then who will? Will a poor Tung Chung resident stand up and seek a Judicial Review?

In case you are interested in legal details - A long review follows below
Legal advisors have prepared the following - long and detailed - review of why the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HKZMB) and Link Road cannot be approved.

Report fails to assess health impact of
Zhuhai Bridge

1.  The EIA Report for the HKZM Bridge and Link Road is flawed because it does not report whether the project is prejudicial to the health and well being of people living in Tung Chung.

2.  The real health impacts on the public, such as impaired lung development in children, and increased inflammations leading to higher rates of heart and lung disease, and even death, must be reported.

3.  The Study Brief, the Technical Memorandum and EIAO Ordinance, require this assessment to be made (see Appendix 1 below.)

4.  Without this element included in the EIA report ACE has no basis on which to decide whether the Report is acceptable or not.

5.  ACE must fulfill its duty to the public by advising the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) that the Report must be rejected. (section 7(5) of the EIAO)

6.   It is widely known that the WHO, Hong Kong's leading public health experts, the Environmental Secretary, the Director of Environmental Protection and the consultant that prepared the EIA Report demand air quality objectives at far lower levels than Hong Kong's outdated AQOs. (see press release, appendix II, below)

7.  To put it simply, air quality that meets Hong Kong's present AQOs is known to be harmful to health.

8.  Therefore comparing the "predicted" emissions against the outdated AQOs is not the same as reporting on and assessing likely harm to the health of the public.

9.  The question for ACE and the DEP: "Is the air pollution from this project when combined with the current air quality likely to be prejudicial to the health and well being of the people of Tung Chung?"

10. So far, the proponents have avoided the question by asserting "It meets the current AQO" ( of the EIA report).  But this does not answer section 10(2)(c) of the EIA Ordinance (see Appendix I below). The Proponents cannot assert that if the Project meets the present outdated AQO, then the polluted air is safe to breathe.

11. Apart from this being the legal requirement, this is a common sense requirement. No rational or reasonable Authority would even consider such a Project without having the solid evidence as to the degree of harm to health it will cause.

Appendix I:  Extracts from key legislation and related materials

A. Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance (cap 499)

Section: 7 - Public inspection of reports

(5) The Advisory Council on the Environment may give any comments it has on the report to the Director within 60 days of its receiving a copy of the report.

"Section: 10 - Application for environmental permit

(2) In granting or refusing an environmental permit, the Director shall have regard to

c) whether the environmental impact caused or experienced by the designated project is or is likely to be prejudicial to the health or well being of people, flora, fauna or ecosystems;"

B. Technical Memorandum of the EIA Ordinance

Section 4.1.1:

"An EIA report shall comprise a document or series of documents providing a detailed assessment in quantitative terms, wherever possible, and in qualitative terms of the likely environmental impacts and environmental benefits of the project. The requirements for the EIA report shall be set out in accordance with this technical memorandum. The EIA report shall be produced in accordance with the EIA study brief issued by the Director to the applicant."

Section 4.4.3:

"The residual environmental impacts refer to the net environmental impacts after mitigation taking into account the background environmental conditions and the impacts from existing, committed and planned projects.  When evaluating the residual environmental impacts (the net impacts with the mitigation measures in place), the following factors shall be considered:

a) the importance of the residual environmental impacts in terms of the following factors:

i) effects on public health and . . . risk to life: if the impacts may cause adverse public health effects  . . . they are considered key concerns.

C. EIA Study Brief (ESB-110/2003)

section 2.

"(iv) Identify and quantify emission sources and determine the significance of impacts on sensitive receivers and potential affected uses;

(x) Identify, predict and evaluate the residual environmental impacts (i.e. after practicable mitigation) and the cumulative effects expected to arise during the construction and operation phases of the Project in relation to the sensitive receivers and potential affected uses

Appendix II:  Government press release on AQO consultation

Public consultation on Air Quality Objectives Review launched

he Government today (July 23) launched a four-month public consultation on the Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) review.

"Air is a very important environmental resource and we must strive to ensure that our air quality can adequately protect public health," Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, said.

"The current Air Quality Objectives of Hong Kong have been in place since 1987.  They need to be updated.  In October 2006, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a new set of Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs).

We therefore propose to make reference to the WHO Air Quality Guidelines to update our Air Quality Objectives to enhance the protection of public health and further improve air quality.  In this regard, the Chief Executive announced in his 2008-09 Policy Address that Hong Kong would adopt targets in stages giving due regard to the WHO guidelines," Mr Yau said.

"In setting the new Air Quality Objectives, the underlying principle is to protect public health.  Achieving the WHO Air Quality Guidelines will be taken as a long-term goal and we will adopt targets in stages to update the Air Quality Objectives," he said.

In mid-2007, the Government commissioned a consultancy study to review the Air Quality Objectives for setting new standards for ambient air pollutant levels that could better protect public health.

Full text: http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200907/23/P200907230082.htm

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