Officials accused of delaying air quality objectives

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 February, 2012, 12:00am


Green activists have accused the government of delaying the introduction of new air quality objectives by opting for time-consuming legislation.

They say environment officials could enact the objectives through administrative means instead of legislation. But they have no plan to launch any legal challenge since it might delay the introduction of the new standards even further.

'This is just another delaying tactic employed by the government,' said Thomas Choi Ka-man, of Friends of the Earth.

He said the government did not need to go through the long legislation process to amend the air pollution control ordinance.

Choi said the government had already wasted four years - from consulting the public to endorsing the controversial amendments. The outdated objectives were first introduced in 1987.

The Environment Protection Department's draft bill will be tabled in Legco in the next legislative session beginning in October. After approval, the new objectives are expected to become law by 2014.

But the department also intends to allow a three-year grace period for projects whose environmental impact assessments have already been approved. As a result, the new objectives will not be fully in force until 2017 for some projects.

Choi said environment secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah could introduce the new objectives quickly by amending the technical memorandum of the Environmental Impact Assessment ordinance. This process does not require legislative approval.

Choi said Yau was empowered to make such an amendment under the air pollution control ordinance as long as he believed the change was in the public interest and would protect air quality.

Equally time-consuming was the three-year grace period, which could be provided through another administrative measure, Choi said.

'The chief executive himself has the discretionary power under the law to exempt some projects from the environmental impact assessment. With this power, it is not necessary to enact a law to create the three years' grace period,' he said.

Choi's views are shared by the Civic Party and Clean Air Network.

An EPD spokesman said the three-year transitional arrangement was needed to ensure the continuity of some projects before the new objectives were introduced.

But he did not explain why the department insisted on a legislative approach.