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Curious contradiction between the model and the reality

South China Morning Post – 3 Aug 2011

A recent report by the think tank Civic Exchange, “Roadside Air Pollution in Hong Kong: Why is it still so bad?”, draws attention to the curious contradiction in the government’s figures on polluting emissions. The Environment Bureau’s public consultation document – “Air Quality Objectives Review” – trumpets the success of what the bureau likes to call the “series of stringent measures” it has put in place since 1990 to reduce emissions from various sources, such as power stations and vehicles.

By 2007, it said, these measures had led to a decline by roughly half in the pollutants sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, respiratory suspended particulates, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide. These figures are derived by modelling, rather than by actual measurement.

That is, the government creates a model, based on the theoretical performance of these sources. However the bureau’s report also contains another set of data, showing the concentrations of the same pollutants as either flat or increasing. This data is based on empirical monitoring of the air.

The bureau notes this contradiction somewhat obliquely, in terms that could have come straight out of the British television programme Yes Minister’s guide to bureaucratic language: “It is apparent that the extent of the air quality improvement is not commensurate with the extent of emission reduction achieved over the past two decades …”

Firstly, one has to wonder why the bureau chose to play up the data derived from its model, rather than the data measuring the actual state of the air.

Secondly, Civic Exchange’s paper, by Dr Michael Edesess, a visiting fellow at the Hong Kong Advanced Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Studies, argues that the government’s model is flawed, in that it depends on the different sources performing at optimal level. In theory, a bus with a Euro V-standard engine produces six times less polluting emissions than a bus with a Euro I-standard engine. But if the Euro V bus is poorly maintained, then its emissions can be up to 20 times greater then its theoretical design. Edesess says that the difference in emissions between well and poorly maintained vehicles can be enormous. He notes that studies in the US city of Denver showed that “since 1999, one automobile in 20 emits more than the other 19 combined”.

He says the bureau’s model does not take account of poorly maintained vehicles. Edesess concludes that there needs to be more stringent inspection of vehicles and penalties for poorly maintained vehicles.

However, as a number of groups have been saying for some time, the government needs to introduce a more attractive scheme of accelerated depreciation and give subsidies to bus companies and truck owners to scrap their old vehicles. This is money that would be well-spent, but it’s not a programme the government shows any sign of taking any interest in, despite paying lip service to its concern for public health

Get rid of polluting vehicles

South China Morning Post – 1 August 2011

Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) has complained about rising fuel costs and says the government should create a stabilisation fund for the firm. Giving public money to a for-profit enterprise is a dangerous path to take.

However, it seems to me that this debate opens the door to a greater opportunity.

On the one hand, it is true that fuel costs are increasing. On the other hand, bus and minibus fleets are still largely gas-guzzling, pre-Euro V vehicles.

It would seem obvious that it would be of use for the government to spend a few billion dollars that it has in its reserves to upgrade these fleets to hybrid/Euro V vehicles.

This would greatly reduce roadside pollution levels, lower the operational costs for bus operators and benefit all citizens.

Combine this measure with regulations mandating emission levels for vehicles over the long run (10 to 20 years) to avoid operators’ inertia and I think we would have a win-win solution. As a bonus, it would also make redundant the current idling engine legislation, which is virtually unenforceable.

KMB’s responsibility to optimise its routes would still hold if it wanted to compete with other operators.

I would say this is better use of government funds than the HK$6,000 handout to permanent residents.

J. C. Clement, Tai Kok Tsui

Ban on idling engines delayed

South China Morning Post – 21 July 2011

Legco panel accuses officials of a ‘breach of trust’ after department informs lawmakers of a three-month postponement in long-awaited legislation

A Legco panel has accused environmental officials of “cheating” by postponing for three months the law meant to ban idling engines.

Adding to lawmakers’ anger, a one-month grace period will be granted to offenders after the law takes effect on December 15 – three months after its intended implementation date and 10 months after the legislation was passed.

Carlson Chan Ka-shun, the deputy director of environmental protection, told Legco’s environment affairs panel that the ban had been delayed out of consideration for drivers in the hot weather, who tend to leave their engines running to power a vehicle’s air-conditioning system.

“My understanding all along is that everyone was hoping that the law would not take effect during the hottest days of the year,” Chan said. September was still part of the city’s hottest season.

He said the Environmental Protection Department also needed time to finalise technical details, such as the format of the penalty notice, and to include these in subsidiary legislation which Legco would be able to pass only after it resumes sittings in September.

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the panel’s deputy chairwoman, said she was dissatisfied with the delay, saying that “the government has always cheated. [The delay] has damaged our mutual trust”.

She said the legislation could instead have been introduced “in mid- or late October when it gets cooler.”

She criticised the government for failing to present the draft regulations yesterday, as it had promised to do when lobbying lawmakers to pass the law in March.

Democrat Kam Nai-wai said he doubted whether the ban could be executed in December, given that officials had shown little progress in arranging publicity and training staff.

Chan replied that 18 police officers and one environmental inspector had been assigned to prepare the work and that they would receive training in September.

The law, which has 20 exemptions, was passed in early March after 10 years of debate over the desirability of such a policy.

After negotiations with the transport industry had been completed, the result represented a much toned-down version of a proposal made by the government in 2007. The original ban offered no grace period, no exemption on bad-weather days, and excluded only the first two taxis and minibuses waiting at a rank.

Changes were introduced in 2009 to exempt more taxis and minibuses, and to cover buses with at least one passenger on board. A three-minute grace period was also introduced. The ban will be suspended on any day when the Observatory issues warnings for storms or very hot weather. The ban will apply to all roads in Hong Kong. Drivers caught parked with their engines running will be fined HK$320.

Thomas Choi Ka-man, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said he was disappointed. “The ban has been so much watered down and now it’s further delayed. I wonder how determined the government is in executing its policy.”

Choi said it would be more helpful to enforcement officers if the ban was launched in summer along with the one-month trial period, as hot days should be the time when most disputes arose over its implementation.

Man Chi-sum, of Green Power, said the delay was a political consideration to avoid strong reaction from the transport industry but was at the expense of pedestrians, street vendors and workers.

Bus pollution After embarrassment over the additional NO2 produced by the particulate filter traps on buses Govt is now going to pay for SCR which should have been mandatory in the first place

Download PDF : LCQ18Busespollution

KMB takes route to $108m buys

Hong Kong Standard – 30 June 2011

Kowloon Motor Bus will spend HK$108 million on 60 single-deck vehicles to be used on less popular routes.

Kowloon Motor Bus will spend HK$108 million on 60 single-deck vehicles to be used on less popular routes.

The company will also replace 36 single-deckers more than 15 years old.

KMB head of depots Ho Chi-man said yesterday the number of less popular routes has increased, especially in the New Territories, owing to population movements.

KMB has also proposed replacing double-deckers with single-deck buses on 20 routes where demand has fallen.

If approved, the new services will begin early next year.

Ho said the  new single-deck buses are environmentally friendly, emitting 94 percent less particulates and 79 percent less nitrogen oxide than existing vehicles, several of which have been in use since 1994.

“In addition, most of the older buses have steps at the entrance, which makes it difficult for the elderly and those in wheelchairs,” he said.

The new buses have lower floors and the ramp at the entrance may be lowered by 25 centimeters to allow wheelchairs.


Firms will veto curbs on pollution

South China Morning Post – 19 June 2011

On the matter of “filthy funnels” (“Laws needed on ship pollution”, June 19), I absolutely agree that Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta should enforce a no-emissions area and switch to low-sulphur fuels.

I assume you also mean to include factories in the delta region that also spew out vile stuff.

This is not going to happen soon, as too many parties are affected. Low-sulphur diesel oil is about 60 per cent more expensive than the heavy fuel oil now used, and a switch would dent shipping companies’ profits.

I seem to recall that we previously selected a shipping tycoon to run this place. We could also select a tycoon with factories spewing out viler stuff across the border.

In all places where such emission controls are in place, there is a mature democratic political system with enlightened voters who can join hands to get this measure through.

Declaring an emission-control area will open up a Pandora’s box. But emission controls could prompt a similar requirement at Shanghai and Tianjin , where the situation is similar.

Sanjay Relan, fleet manager,  Pacific Basin Shipping (SEHK: 2343,announcementsnews) (HK)

Emissions Reference site Th esignificance of Euro5 is Particulate Matter stringent rules PM2.5 is the roadside killer

Summary of worldwide diesel emission standards is presented in cooperation withDiesel Progress Magazine.

  • Euro I standards were introduced in 1992, followed by the introduction of Euro II regulations in 1996. These standards applied to both truck engines and urban buses, the urban bus standards, however, were voluntary.
  • In 1999, the EU adopted Directive 1999/96/EC, which introduced Euro III standards (2000), as well as Euro IV/V standards (2005/2008). This rule also set voluntary, stricter emission limits for extra low emission vehicles, known as “enhanced environmentally friendly vehicles” or EEVs.
  • In 2001, the European Commission adopted Directive 2001/27/EC which prohibits the use of emission “defeat devices” and “irrational” emission control strategies, which would be reducing the efficiency of emission control systems when vehicles operate under normal driving conditions to levels below those determined during the emission testing procedure.
  • Directive 2005/55/EC adopted by the EU Parliament in 2005 introduced durability and OBD requirements, as well as re-stated the emission limits for Euro IV and Euro V which were originally published in 1999/96/EC. In a “split-level” regulatory approach, the technical requirements pertaining to durability and OBD—including provisions for emission systems that use consumable reagents—have been described by the Commission inDirective 2005/78/EC.
  • Euro VI emission standards were introduced by Regulation 595/2009published on 18 July 2009 (with a Corrigenda of 31 July 2009). The new emission limits, comparable in stringency to the US 2010 standards,become effective from 2013 (new type approvals) and 2014 (all registrations). In the “split-level” approach, a number of technical details will be specified in the implementing regulation (‘comitology’) which should be adopted by the end of 2010.

KMB facing loss from fuel costs

South China Morning Post 21st May 2011

Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) could soon apply for another fare increase. Its management is warning that, for the first time in a decade, it could make a loss.

Hong Kong’s largest bus operator – whose profit contribution to holding company Transport International Holdings (SEHK: 0062) has shrunk over the years – raised its fares by an average of 3.6 per cent on Sunday.

But the group’s managing director, Edmond Ho Tat-man, said the HK$200 million a year the fare increase would generate would not fully cover its fuel costs, which are expected to increase by HK$500 million this year.

“We are not making enough to cover our expenses. If oil prices don’t fall, we will be in the red this year,” Ho said.

KMB’s listed flagship Transport International, which makes money from leasing and selling property at its former depots and operating local coach services and public transport in Shenzhen and Beijing, reported a net profit of HK$866 million last year, nearly 30 per cent above that of 2009.

More than half the profit came from sales and interest earnings from property projects in Lai Chi Kok, including offices, shopping malls and luxury apartment block the Manhattan Hill. Excluding two one-off gains, its franchised bus operation accounted for just HK$243.3 million of its profits, down 38.4 per cent from 2009.

The company blamed that drop in profit on fuel costs, which were HK$1.14 billion last year and made up nearly a fifth of KMB’s expenses. The price of the near-zero-sulphur diesel the company uses jumped from US$86 per barrel in July – when KMB sparked a public outcry by proposing average fare rises of 8.6 per cent – to US$138 per barrel last month.

Ho said 60 per cent of KMB’s 380 routes were losing money – an all-time high. “Most of these routes overlap with rail lines and are seriously underused. Some trips, even at peak periods, carry less than 15 passengers but our proposals to trim or remove them are always opposed by district councillors.”

Route restructuring can only get tougher in the next two years, with elections being held for district councils and the legislature. Councillors will be particularly reluctant to agree to reduce public services. Last year councillors rejected seven of KMB’s 16 applications to trim routes; just nine of its 3,800-strong bus fleet were taken off the road as a result.

KMB hopes to import at least 10 supercapacitor buses – an electric model that recharges via an overhead cable at bus stops – by the end of next year. Deputy managing director Evan Auyang said it hopes the technology will be mature enough by then for KMB to adopt it rather than buying diesel-powered buses that meet the European Union’s new Euro IV emission standards.

The group’s shares closed up 0.87 per cent at HK$23.20. Auyang said the market was worried Euro VI buses could use more fuel than Euro V models since they will require extra power to reduce emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide.

A question of quality – The HK Macau Zhuhai Bridge

South China Morning Post — 5 May 2011

The recent court ruling quashing the approval of the environmental impact assessment of two Hong Kong sections of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge will not just delay the start of construction of this project. It may also hold up the environmental approvals for the Environmental Protection Department’s planned waste incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau.

The air quality impact assessments of the delta bridge project and the incinerator cover overlapping areas of North Lantau close to the airport and Tung Chung. One of the objectives of the assessments is to forecast the cumulative impact of these projects on air quality in the area. Since the approval for the delta bridge project has now been quashed, we need new environmental assessments to tell us how much pollution the delta bridge project will contribute.

Let us hope that some of the dubious assumptions underpinning the bridge study will be corrected. For example, the previous study assumed that emissions from road traffic in North Lantau will double from 2016 to 2031. Yet, the incinerator study assumes that such emissions will fall by half over virtually the same 15-year period.

Both studies assume there will be no expansion of capacity at Hong Kong International Airport – a major source of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions – after it reaches its current operating capacity in 2020. This implies there will be no third runway at Chek Lap Kok, a questionable assumption.

When it comes to preparing environmental reports, there seems to be little disincentive for making up assumptions. The law makes those who offer shares to the public liable for damages if the prospectus contains false or misleading statements. But such liability does not apply in environmental studies; people whose health may have suffered as a result of a study’s wrong assumptions will have great difficulty suing those responsible for issuing the report.

The time to challenge questionable assumptions in these reports is during the statutory consultation period, so the project proponent can either substantiate them or correct them before the reports are approved.

Many important assumptions that underpin air quality assessments are buried in the input files for the computer models used to carry out studies. In the delta bridge case, the applicant said there was not enough information about the assumptions fed into the computer model that simulated the dispersion of air pollutants across the region. The judge decided that these concerns should have been raised during the public consultation and it was too late to raise them in a judicial review.

The applicant also questioned whether the model was even capable of making reliable forecasts of future air quality, given that the projected regional emission sources may not be accurate. The judge said that issue also had been raised too late.

Legal challenges to environmental assessment reports, which up until now have been rare, are becoming more likely. The Environmental Protection Department has allowed air quality to deteriorate so far that almost any major new infrastructure project will cause further breaches of Hong Kong’s air quality objectives. Ozone and nitrogen dioxide concentrations are already well over the legal limits and are getting worse.

Hong Kong’s air quality bucket is already full to overflowing and the government urgently needs to take action to remove as much avoidable pollution from the bucket as it can to make room for new projects. No one is buying the argument there is still room in the bucket for another project, and there is growing public pressure on the government to reduce the size of the bucket by tightening the air quality standards.

The solution is clear. The government should start implementing some of the measures to improve air quality that it proposed in the environmental department’s 2009 consultation paper on air quality benchmarks.

There has been much speculation about the motives of those who helped Chu Yee-wah with her case against the department. As one of those people, I am happy to confirm that this case was all about protecting the environment. May I ask instead, who are the individuals preventing the department from implementing the measures it proposed in 2009 to improve air quality? It seems that they are the ones holding up the government’s infrastructure projects.

David Renton is a partner at Baker Botts law firm and was a member of the legal team that advised the successful applicant in the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge case

Top court appeal over mega bridge

HK Standard — 5 May 2011

The government is to appeal against a court ruling that quashed the environmental permit for the Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macau bridge in a move that may further delay construction.

The action will be taken in the Court of Final Appeal this week on the grounds it is not mandatory under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance for the government to assess air quality without the project in place, a source said.

The source said the authorities are also preparing to counter the High Court’s claim that the assessment report is “substandard” and that the government needs to reassess the environmental impact of proposed boundary-crossing facilities.

Last month, Chu Yee-wah, a 65-year-old Tung Chung resident who is in poor health, successfully argued the Environmental Protection Department had failed to conduct the necessary assessments before granting permits for the construction of the mega bridge, which passes close to her residence.

Chu’s lawyer, Alan Wong Hok-ming, said yesterday the legal battle could drag on for six months or more.

Work on the Hong Kong section of the bridge was scheduled to begin late last year and be completed in 2016, but work has not yet started because of the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the earlier High Court ruling has had a knock-on effect, with the MTR Corp withdrawing impact assessment reports for its Sha Tin-Central rail link.

A transport advisory body had raised concerns over the progress of the 17-kilometer line.

Transport Advisory Committee chairman Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said if many changes are needed, the railway operator may postpone the public consultation exercise scheduled to end early next year.