Public policy think tank Civic Exchange notes the Court of Appeal on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai- Macau Bridge emphasized that the Director of Environmental Protection has a duty to ensure project proponents must minimize the environmental impacts of their projects.
In the Court's view, the Director does not need a “stand alone” analysis1 of a project's environmental impacts to ensure that a project's impacts are kept to a minimum, and thus allowed the Director’s appeal.
The High Court and Court of Appeal cases have thrown-up many process issues about the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance but they have not – and cannot – resolve a number of important issues relating to air quality and the broader issues of the Ordinance.
Some of the issues with significance beyond this case include:
• If EIA reports are only required to predict the cumulative impact of a large number of projects that will all contribute to polluting the atmosphere, how is the Director to decide what difference mitigation measures in relation to the specific project being assessed will make to overall air quality and whether mitigation measures should be required as a condition of granting the project an environmental permit?
• The impact of air pollution from new infrastructure on public health;
• Whether Hong Kong’s air quality is now so poor that it threatens future infrastructure development;
• The lack of transparency in the assumptions used by project proponents’ modelling to predict future air quality; and
• The potential for conflict of interest in merging the roles of the Director of Environmental Protection and Permanent Secretary for the Environment, where the Director’s role is to be an environmental professional whereas the Permanent Secretary is a political role.
“The net result is that future projects will be subjected to ever-greater levels of public scrutiny until such time as these fundamental concerns are resolved,” said Christine Loh, Chief Executive Officer of Civic Exchange.
Air pollution for motor vehicles in particular continues to rise despite the numerous control measures that the government has introduced. At the same time a preliminary report from the consultants for the Airport Authority have warned that the third runway will only be able to operate at 40% if it is to meet the Environment Bureau’s proposed (and much delayed) new AQO mentioned in the 2009 consultation document.
Civic Exchange notes the urgent need for a transparent and structured public debate to resolve these issues, and called on the Government and the Legislative Council to work together to allow these discussions to happen.
1 A “stand alone” analysis is a means by which a project's environmental impacts can be identified and distinguished from the impacts of other projects which have already received their environmental permits and whose impacts may not be subject to further mitigation.