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October, 2012:

Ageing diesel vehicles banned in anti-pollution drive


Submitted by calum.gordon on Oct 18th 2012, 7:16pm

News› Hong Kong

Lai Ying-ki

The government is planning to phase out old diesel vehicles to reduce roadside pollution, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said on Thursday.

Wong said one option that can be adopted from overseas and the mainland was to discontinue the licenses of diesel vehicles which have reached 15 years old.

“We hope to draw up a retirement age [for these vehicles],” he said, adding that diesel vehicles contributed to 80 per cent of pollutants at roadsides.

He said overseas authorities on one hand offered incentives to encourage owners to phase out diesel vehicles and on the other hand introducing a cap on their time in use.

“We will discuss incentives with industry stakeholders, and see how to balance their business and Hong Kong’s air pollution,” he said.

The environment minister spoke of the new initiative as roadside air pollution indices have reached the “very high” level of 100 in three busy districts in the past nine days.

The Environmental Protection Department warns people with heart or respiratory illnesses against physical exertion and outdoor activities when the indices reach this level.

Wong also said his bureau was now drawing up a target for reducing roadside pollution in 2015.

Source URL (retrieved on Oct 19th 2012, 5:13am):

Nike cuts ties with disgraced cycling star Armstrong


Published on South China Morning Post (

Home > Nike cuts ties with disgraced cycling star Armstrong

Nike cuts ties with disgraced cycling star Armstrong

Submitted by calum.gordon on Oct 17th 2012, 9:04pm

Sport›Other Sport


Agence France-Presse in Washington

Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer charity on Wednesday as Nike broke all ties with the disgraced cycling star over “seemingly insurmountable evidence” of doping.

Both developments came as the International Cycling Union (UCI) faced growing pressure to reveal how the 41-year-old, seven-time Tour de France champion had been able to escape detection for doping for so long.

In a statement on Livestrong’s website, cancer survivor Armstrong said he would “conclude my chairmanship … to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career.

Separately, sportswear giant Nike – a major sponsor that had stuck firmly by Armstrong for months in the face of doping allegations – issued a statement that accused him of years of deception.

“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” it said.

It added: “Nike plans to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer.”

Livestrong is one of the best-known cancer charities in the United States, having raised nearly US$500 million since it was founded by Armstrong in 1997 as he recovered from testicular cancer.

Its iconic yellow wristband was launched in 2004 in collaboration with Nike.

Armstrong always maintained he did not use banned substances, but in August he chose not to contest charges put forward by the US Anti-doping Agency (USADA) that he was a serial drugs cheat.

Last week the USADA, in a report supported by more than 1,000 pages of evidence, alleged that Armstrong was at the heart of what it called the biggest doping conspiracy in sports history.

“Lance Armstrong did not merely use performance-enhancing drugs. He supplied them to his teammates,” it said. “He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team. He enforced and re-enforced it.”

Evidence included testimony from 11 of Armstrong’s former US Postal cycling teammates, an expert’s finding that Armstrong blood changes indicated doping and documents showing a payment to doping-linked doctor Michele Ferrari.

“The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming,” USADA chief executive Travis T. Tygart said.

“The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Although fingers have pointed at Armstrong for years, the UCI, cycling’s governing body, has never sanctioned him and it has since been suggested that some officials looked the other way.

Legal experts have said the sheer and unprecedented volume and detail of the USADA allegations could lead US prosecutors and companies to consider fresh criminal and civil actions.



More on this:

Lance Armstrong paid motorcyclist to deliver EPO, ex-teammate says [1]

Lance Armstrong’s team ran ‘the most sophisticated doping programme ever’ [2]

Source URL (retrieved on Oct 17th 2012, 10:28pm):


Don’t lose sight of clean air

Submitted by admin on Oct 17th 2012, 12:00am

Comment›Insight & Opinion

SCMP Editorial

When Leung Chun-ying said he would roll out policies once they were ready, instead of waiting until his maiden policy speech in January, there were doubts as to how many initiatives he could come up with in the meantime. Three months have passed. Even the most vocal critics may agree that the chief executive has so far remained true to his promise. There is no shortage of measures, such as the controversial “locals-only” housing policy, a HK$2,200 monthly handout for elderly and a commission to tackle poverty. But, apparently, one key policy area has yet to be given the attention it deserves – environmental protection.

A report on air pollution in this paper last week has given Leung a timely reminder to act on this front. According to a report card compiled by the government, the city has achieved its overall clean-air targets agreed upon with Guangdong up through 2010. The emission levels of four pollutants were said to have dropped by 30 to 59 per cent compared with readings in 1997. However, roadside air quality and marine air pollution have noticeably worsened in recent years. Vessels belched out 35,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide in 2010, up 8.3 per cent from 2009. Separately, road transport accounted for 286 tonnes of sulphur dioxide in 2010, up from 271 tonnes the previous year.

It is ironic to see the government congratulating itself on having met the targets, which green activists criticise as nothing to be proud of because the baseline for comparison was too high. But it is comforting to see that officials, admitting that roadside and ship-related air pollution have worsened, have pledged to do more to improve the situation.

Environmental protection is as urgent as any other policy area. Nothing is more important than the air we breathe. The initiatives on the environment promised by the chief executive may not arouse as much interest as housing and welfare. But that does not mean they should be given a lower priority. The recent scheme allowing ships to claim a 50 per cent reduction in port related charges for switching to less-polluting fuel is a good start. We trust the chief executive has not forgotten his campaign promises. The government plans to announce new targets with our neighbouring province for the next stage this year. Given Leung’s close ties with the mainland authorities, he can, hopefully, make better use of his influence to come up with more ambitious targets to improve air quality.


Leung Chun-Ying

Air Pollution in Hong Kong

Environmental Protection

Emission Standards

Source URL (retrieved on Oct 17th 2012, 6:06am):

Pan-democrats lose out in battle for Legco panel power

Beijing loyalists end up chairing 16 out of 20, setting stage for a conflict

Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am

Tony Cheung

SCMP/RTHK Hong Kong’s Top Story 2012

  • ·        d93ad50628b33af89b845daa41ebe780.jpg

Lawmakers vote yesterday on who will chair the constitutional panel. Photo: K.Y.Cheng

The pro-establishment camp secured 16 out of 20 chairmanships on Legislative Council panels and subcommittees yesterday, three more than in the previous legislature, including the much-coveted panel on administration of justice and legal services.

The outcome was a blow for the pan-democratic camp, whose four chairmanships fell short of the seven it occupied in the last four-year term.

The refusal of Beijing-loyalist lawmakers – who form the majority in Legco – to grant more chairmanships to the pan-democrats sets the stage for an escalating tussle between the two sides.

Their next battle will take place on Friday in the Finance Committee meeting, when Beijing loyalists will seek, amid pan-democrats’ opposition, to change rules to ban filibusters.

Dr Li Pang-kwong, a political scientist at Lingnan University, said the pro-establishment camp’s bagging of the chairs was “a preventive measure against filibustering and an attempt to regain an initiating role”.

However, it was likely to worsen straining ties, and pan-democrats might resort to more radical means of protest, he said.

Pan-democrats Lee Cheuk-yan and Cyd Ho Sau-lan of the Labour Party, the Civic Party’s Alan Leong Kah-kit and People Power’s Wong Yuk-man secured chairs. The chairs were for panels on manpower, on the environment, on food safety and environmental hygiene, and on information technology and broadcasting, respectively.

The Democratic Party’s Emily Lau Wai-hing and the Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, Kwok Ka-ki and Leong lost their bids to head up the constitutional affairs, legal services and transport panels, and the public works sub-committee.

Since last month, the pan-democrats had sought to reach a consensus with their rivals, including splitting panel chairmanships so each camp would get two years at the helm. The two sides agreed to split the chairmanships of the four now chaired by pan-democrats, and five others that they would be allowed to chair two years later.

Political scientist Dixon Sing Ming, from the University of Science and Technology, said the outcome reflected the wishes of Beijing and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to ensure a smoother passage of government proposals.

“In the next few years, Legco will discuss important policies, for example, electoral reforms,” Sing said.

Independent legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who beat Dennis Kwok to chair the legal services panel, courted controversy right away when she proposed holding the meetings at 10.45am on Fridays, instead of the current 4.30pm on Mondays.

Pan-democrats objected, accusing her of discussing the matter with the Legco secretariat before she was elected chairwoman. Leung promised to try to come up with a better timeslot.

Firing an opening salvo on the part of the Beijing-loyalist camp, Ip Kwok-him, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he would seek an amendment on Friday to the Finance Committee’s procedures, to ban lawmakers from tabling more than one motion on every funding proposal. The present rules allow a lawmaker to move a motion without prior notice before an item is put to the vote.

In June, People Power lawmakers moved nearly 1,000 motions, causing a marathon series of meetings that helped block a government restructuring plan.

Ip emphasised that his amendment would not limit lawmakers’ right to speak.

“Sixty-nine lawmakers can still table 69 motions, but the amendment is necessary to ensure smooth proceedings at meetings”.

Lau slammed Ip’s proposal as the equivalent of turning Legco into a rubber stamp. “It is like declaring war on the pan-democrats; if you take away our right to speak, the world will think Legco is completely meaningless.”

Only a simple majority for is needed for Ip’s amendment to pass. Albert Chan Wai-yip of People Power warned that it might launch another filibuster to stop it from getting through.



Administration of justice and legal services: Priscilla Leung Mei-fun

Commerce and industry: Vincent Fang Kang

Constitutional affairs: Tam Yiu-chung

Development: Lau Wong-fat

Economic development: Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung

Education: Lam Tai-fai

Financial affairs: Starry Lee Wai-king

Health services: Leung Ka-lau

Home affairs: Ma Fung-kwok

Housing: Wong Kwok-hing

Public service: Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee

Security: Ip Kwok-him

Transport: Chan Kam-lam

Welfare services: Chan Yuen-han

Establishment subcommittee: Wong Ting-kwong

Public works subcommittee: Chan Kam-lam


Information technology and broadcasting: Wong Yuk-man

Manpower: Lee Cheuk-yan

Environmental affairs: Cyd Ho Sau-lan

Food safety and environmental hygiene: Alan Leong Kah-kit

Environmentalists sue California to stop fracking

Submitted by sean.kennedy on Oct 17th 2012, 8:51am


Reuters in San Francisco

Environmental groups sued the state of California on Tuesday in an effort to stop hydraulic fracturing as regulators attempt to devise new rules for the controversial oil and gas extraction practice.

The lawsuit accuses the regulator, the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, with failing to evaluate the risks, even though fracking was used for more than 600 wells in the state last year.

Fracking, or pumping chemical-laced water and sand into a well to open cracks that release oil and gas, has generated a fierce debate across the country, leading to bans in one state and several municipalities. Yet the industry insists the practice is safe so long as wells are properly built.

A non-profit environmental law firm, Earthjustice, filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Working Group and the Sierra Club.

“Public outcry has finally forced the Department to take a look at fracking,” Earthjustice attorney George Torgun said in a statement. “They’ve held workshops and say they’re considering regulations. But the problem needs attention now before too much damage is done.”

In July, the Department of Conservation hosted several workshops to discuss potential regulation in anticipation of increased horizontal drilling in the state, which combined with fracking has unlocked oil and gas reservoirs around the country.

Given the public scrutiny, new rules are not expected to be finalised until mid-2013, officials said, though a draft set of rules are expected soon. State legislation to halt fracking, however, has so far received little support.

John Krohn, spokesman for oil and gas industry group Energy In Depth, pointed to the regulators’ new rules on fracking and also said that California already had strict oil and gas rules that protect groundwater.

“But fringe environmental groups will not settle for anything less than a ban, which is why they are taking the regulators to court,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit acknowledged that fracking had been taking place in California oil wells since the 1950s, but the plaintiffs asked that the regulator not allow any more fracking until it has prepared “programmatic” environmental impact reports to cover the practice in various types of wells around the state.

Topics: fracking_ap.jpg



Source URL (retrieved on Oct 21st 2012, 6:35am):

Pro-government lawmakers to head majority of Legco panels

Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 7:49pm

Lai Ying-kit

SCMP/RTHK Hong Kong’s Top Story 2012

  • ·    priscilla.jpg

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun attends the election for the chairman and deputy chairman of the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services of Legislative Council in Tamar. Leung was elected as the chairman of the panel. Photo: KY Cheng

Pro-government lawmakers were elected on Tuesday to chair 16 of the 20 panels and subcommittees in the Legislative Council for the coming four years.

In one key new acquisition, the pro-government camp won the chairmanship of the legal services panel for the first time in years.

Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, of Professional Forum, beat the Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, the legal sector lawmaker, by 19 votes to 13 in a poll by panel members.

The position had been held by pan-democrats and legal sector lawmakers for many years.

The 16 panels won by pro-government lawmakers included financial affairs, public works, industry and commerce, and housing and constitutional affairs.

Pan-democrats took the reins of only four panels: information technology and broadcasting, environmental affairs, manpower, and food safety and environmental hygiene.

Last week the pro-establishment camp won three other key positions in the legislature. Jasper Tsang Yok-sing was re-elected Legco president while pro-business lawmakers won the chairmanships of the finance and the house committees.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the pro-government camp was trying to prevent future filibusters by pan-democrats, by taking tighter control of panel meetings.

Choy said Tuesday’s vote results might intensify the struggle between the pan-democrat and pro-government camps, leading to more street protests.

Natural gas eyed as fuel for trains

6:09 p.m., Sunday, October 14, 2012

Natural gas eyed as fuel for trains

Zain Shauk
Houston Chronicle
The Canadian National Railway is experimenting with natural gas as a train fuel, which involves adding a liquefied natural gas tank behind the locomotive. The switch from diesel could save money.

Houston — On a 300-mile stretch of railroad in the plains of eastern Alberta, a test train chugs across the landscape burning a fuel that once made sense only to environmentalists.

It runs on natural gas. And today, that makes sense to business leaders whose top priority is cutting costs.

Over the past two weeks, train industry executives and others have been talking more about natural gas, as meetings in Houston and the Chicago area highlighted bubbling interest in a fuel that could slash one of railways’ top costs.

Representatives from major railroad companies and related manufacturers met in private at a Houston hotel conference room last month to talk about how to push forward what could be the next great shift in train technology – a cataclysmic transition similar to the move decades ago from coal to diesel power.

Although rail companies have been coy in public about the potential of natural gas for locomotives, citing nascent technology and few real-world examples of gas-powered trains, they are exploring the option aggressively.

“The interest level, as you would assume, is very high,” said Doug Longman, a researcher at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago who was at a recent meeting on the subject and has worked on various diesel engine technology projects over the past 30 years. “The railroads would really like to be able to use natural gas in their locomotives. It’s a cost issue.”

Diesel’s costs

Union Pacific, the nation’s largest publicly traded railroad operator, says diesel pushed its fuel and utilities costs to $3.6 billion last year, accounting for 26 percent of its overall expenses, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2001, fuel and utilities costs were 13 percent of the company’s expenses and in 1999, they were 9 percent of all costs, according to SEC filings.

That increase, a result of climbing diesel prices, has led railroads to invest in software and engine upgrades that can shave gallons off of their total fuel usage, said Keith Schoonmaker, an analyst for Morningstar.

“Slight improvements do mean big savings for sure, but I don’t know what kind of cost savings would be available for natural gas,” Schoonmaker said.

Railroad companies seem to believe natural gas prices are going to remain low and stable because of booming production of gas from shale plays, giving it a consistent price edge over diesel – which now sells for $1 to $2 more per gallon than an equivalent amount of natural gas.

With industry leaders Union Pacific and privately held BNSF Railway each consuming around 1 billion gallons of diesel annually, even a difference of a few cents per gallon can mean tens of millions of dollars in savings.

But fuel costs aren’t the only consideration.

To make the switch to natural gas, a railroad would have to modify its diesel-electric locomotives, a process that today costs $600,000 to $1 million, said Normand Pellerin, assistant vice president for environment and sustainability for Canadian National Railways, which is running the test train in Alberta.

The conversion cost is expected to fall with increased application and interest from companies, Pellerin said.

Schoonmaker said a new locomotive costs about $2 million.

Caterpillar and natural gas engine manufacturer Westport have announced plans to develop and sell natural gas-powered engines for locomotives, although they haven’t announced timetables for those products.

“It has to be something that the whole industry is going to be moving on to, but our projection is that, yes, it will be eventually moving on to gas,” Pellerin said. “That’s because we don’t see how diesel prices will come down over the years. It’s all about pricing.”


But it also involves the process of actually moving and storing liquefied natural gas so that trains can refuel along the tens of thousands of miles of railroad in the United States.

The idea is to reinvent a relic of a bygone era: Tender cars, once used to carry coal and wood behind steam-powered locomotives, could soon come into production in the form of large tanks for liquefied natural gas.

Gas has intrigued train companies for decades as a possible alternative to diesel, but until recently costs have been too high or too volatile to inspire the kind of groundswell of support and investment needed to push the industry forward.

BNSF tested natural gas as a fuel for locomotives about 20 years ago, in an outdoor experiment at a rail yard. BNSF spokesman Steven Forsberg declined to comment about the test except to say that “the same issues and questions are involved in the current evaluations.”

Other companies were also wary of expressing too much optimism about natural gas.

“While this presents near-term opportunities for the transportation companies, there are significant challenges that need to be addressed before Union Pacific could run trains on natural gas,” said spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza-Williams.

Although natural gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to emissions, many environmentalists have long supported it as a cleaner-burning bridge fuel toward renewable energy sources. Over the past year, however, concerns about methane leaked from production and storage operations have brought opposition to the fuel as a potentially more environmentally damaging than diesel and gasoline. Methane, the dominant component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas.

That makes the benefits of using natural gas in locomotives a little hazier, said Drew Nelson, clean energy project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“From an air quality perspective, the science suggests that natural gas has significant benefits compared with other fossil fuels, but from a climate perspective more research is needed,” he said.

Zain Shauk is a Houston Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:


Fine pollutants inside buses twice WHO limit, study finds


Submitted by admin on Oct 13th 2012, 12:00am

News›Hong Kong


Jolie Ho

People on Hong Kong buses are breathing air containing twice the level of fine pollutants as that deemed safe by the World Health Organisation, an environmental group said yesterday.

Friends of the Earth conducted tests in June and July, and found the average level of PM2.5 particles – those 2.5 microns or less in diameter – in buses on 13 routes was 53.11 micrograms per cubic metre. The WHO calls for a limit of 25.

Such particles are roughly 1/28th the thickness of a human hair and because they are so fine, can lodge deep in the lungs. Some respirable suspended particles can cause cancer.

Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung, senior environmental officer of Friends of the Earth, said such high levels of PM2.5 were a serious health threat to the passengers and drivers. “There is a perception problem. People think that entering a bus is like entering a protected area, comparatively safer [than on a polluted roadway], but that is not the case,” Chau said.

The PM2.5 levels in buses were about the same as on the roadside because the vehicles’ ventilation systems did not filter out fine particles, she said.

The study was limited to franchised buses, and so excluded minibuses. Buses on each route were tested at least four times to get a reliable average reading.

The highest level recorded was in a bus on Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay – 171 microns per cubic metre – on Citybus route 5.

Dr Wong Tze-wai, a professor in occupational and environmental health at Chinese University, said: “These suspended particles can bypass the normal defence mechanism of the human body. They do not exist in nature … so they cannot be captured [by the fine hair and mucus in our lungs].”

Wong said US studies had linked fine particles to elevated death rates from lung cancer.

Kowloon Motor Bus said new buses were being equipped with electronic static filters, which can block PM2.5. By last month, 1,350 of its 3,900 buses had the filters. Citybus could not be reached for comment.

The government has not set a limit for PM2.5.


Fine pollutants




Source URL (retrieved on Oct 13th 2012, 5:35am):

Cell studies provide insights into toxic effects of particulate matter

Download PDF : 301na1

Never mind the weight, what about the concentration