Fines to hurt polluters

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is stepping up efforts to tackle the growing problem of repeat offenders.

About one-third of 289 convictions under the Water Pollution Control Ordinance last year involved companies which had been before the court earlier.

Of the 444 convictions under the Noise Control Ordinance, two-thirds were repeat offenders.

It is possible some companies are factoring fines into their overall operating costs, while others are hoping the authorities will not catch them.

In some cases, the offences were committed due to a lack of awareness of environmental laws.

The EPD and the Local Control Offices (LCOs) will implement several measures to combat the problem. These include: securing higher fines for repeat offences; more frequent inspection and prosecution of repeat offenders; confronting the senior management of the companies concerned; providing guidance and technical advice to the offenders.

Imposing higher penalties on repeat offenders should prove to be an effective deterrent.

Under the Water Pollution Ordinance, the average fine for a first offence was $15,800, while for subsequent offences it was $31,300.

Under the Noise Control Ordinance, the average fine for a first offence was $11,420, with repeat offenders having to cough up $29,140.

In cases of blatant disregard of the law, LCO staff would also approach company managers or directors to prevent further violations.

Under exist ing environmental laws, managers and directors are also liable to be prosecuted for offences committed by their company if there is sufficient evidence pointing to their connivance or negligence.

Last year, a company manager received a one-month suspended prison term for an environmental offence.

EPD issues a monthly press release giving de tails of convic tions under the various environ mental ordi nances.

This has put pressure on com panies which need to maintain a good public image. There have been many cases where adverse press coverage has prompted errant firms to improve their environmental record.

Offenders are advised on acceptable environ mental standards and the degree of pollution reduction required.

They are also given a range of alternatives, but the companies can make their own decisions on installation of pollution control equipment to resolve their problems.

LCOs distribute guidance notes, information booklets and codes of practice, respond to telephone inquiries and meet offenders to address specific issues.

The effort to tackle repeat offenders is a continuing one. There is still much to be done and the EPD is responding by improving the efficiency of its enforcement activities.

It is hoped these measures will help reduce the number of persistent offenders.

Dr Wong is a senior officer at the Environmental Protection Department Friends of the Earth is a local non- profit environmental organisation. For further information, call 2528-5588.