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June 24th, 2008:

Drivers Unhappy Despite Dropping Of Diesel Tax

Transport workers see little relief

Dennis Eng and May Chan – Jun 24, 2008 – SCMP

The scrapping of tax on Euro V diesel would do little to alleviate high fuel costs, truck drivers and public transport operators said yesterday, refusing to rule out more fare rises.

Their comments came after Secretary for Transport Eva Cheng, speaking to legislators, said the 56 HK cents per litre duty on Euro V diesel would be dropped, while the duty on ultra-low sulfur diesel and petrol would be unchanged. She said the move would affect 130,000 vehicles and save drivers HK$600 to HK$700 a month.

The policy was designed to encourage use of Euro V diesel, which emits about 80 per cent less sulfur and 5 per cent fewer particulates than Euro IV fuel.

Ms Cheng denied the government had caved in to public and industry pressure and legislators largely welcomed the relief measure.

Spokesmen for Shell and Exxon Mobil said they would reflect the duty waiver in their pump prices as soon as possible once the change was ratified.

Lai Kim-tak, chairman of the Medium and Heavy Truck Concern Group, did not hold out much hope that the tax exemption would offer appreciable long-term relief.

“There will be no guarantee of affordable fuel prices unless the government promises to regulate and monitor fuel prices,” he said.

Lai Ming-hung, a spokesman for the Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group, said the measure would not benefit the majority of taxis and minibuses, which had been converted to run on the cleaner liquefied petroleum gas.

“Taxis and minibuses may still feel pressure to raise their fares if fuel prices remain high,” he said.

Taxis have already succeeded in raising the flagfall by HK$1 to HK$16 in urban areas and HK$13.50 in the New Territories.

Chiang Chi-wai, a spokesman for the Fuel Price Concern Transportation Joint Conference, which welcomed the concession, said the government should lower the land premium on petrol station sites.

The tendering system for operating licences for the stations should also be reviewed, Mr Chiang said. The leases for petrol stations are not automatically renewed but put up for tender. The high land premium payable on the sites is often cited by the transport and logistics trade as a reason for the high price of fuel in Hong Kong.

But Ms Cheng said land prices were determined by market forces and the government would not subsidise any one particular trade by scrapping the premium.

Deputy secretary for the environment Roy Tang Yun-kwong said the government kept a close watch on fuel prices and had measures in place to ensure the change in duty was passed on to drivers.

The 56 HK cents per litre duty for Euro V diesel was introduced for two years on December 1 last year.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said it hoped the exemption could take effect during this Legislative Council session, but it could consider imposing the duty again in future.

In line with the EU, the government plans to make Euro V the required minimum for diesel vehicles from January 1 next year. Euro V can be used by all existing diesel vehicles.

Duty shall be payable on hydrocarbon oil (other than ultra low sulphur diesel and Euro V diesel) at the following rates per litre –

(a) aircraft spirit – HK$6.51
(b) light diesel oil – HK$2.89
(c) motor spirit (leaded petrol) – HK$6.82
(d) motor spirit (unleaded petrol) – HK$6.06

Beijing Downplay Pollution Fears – 24th June 2008

Beijing officials have once again sought to dismiss fears over pollution ahead of the Olympics amid increasing concerns over air quality in the Chinese capital.

With 45 days to go until the Games, China remain firm in their belief that they can deliver a “Green Olympics” after placing restrictions on motor vehicles, construction and heavy industry in Beijing.

However, many associations remain sceptical over whether targets will be met.

Track and field athletes from Australia and New Zealand will prepare for the Games in Hong Kong – with Australia’s endurance competitors training in Japan – while Canada will base themselves in Singapore ahead of the athletics events which begin on August 15, in the second week of the event.

Those athletes will miss the opening ceremony on August 8, departing for Beijing at the last possible moment, with the oppressive pollution – which is likely to be exacerbated by hot weather – believed to be the primary reason for this decision.

“As far as air quality is concerned, I’m fully confident that Beijing will fulfil its commitment of hosting a ‘Green Olympics’,” said Du Shaozhong, Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau deputy chief.

It has been reported that there have been significant improvements in air quality to back Du’s claims, with statistics showing improvements in nine straight years since the Olympic bid, and major pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, reduced by between 10% and 60%.

Public transport is set to be improved in a further effort to cater for those restricted from using private vehicles.

“We will add 2000 buses, open three new metro lines, and extend their operation hours to cater for the increased demand,” Zhou Zhengyu, spokesman for the Beijing transport committee and its deputy director, told China Daily.

Beijing Begs Residents To Use Any Mode But Cars

Beijing begs residents to use any mode but cars during Games

Woods Lee in Beijing – Updated on Jun 24, 2008 – SCMP

Authorities in Beijing are trying to wean the capital’s residents off their growing addiction to cars, and to promote a green Olympics, by encouraging them to use more environmentally friendly forms of transport to and from work.

On its website yesterday, the municipal government “appealed earnestly” to residents to take public transport, cycle or walk to work before and during the Games from August 8-24.

Authorities said public servants would take the lead. From now until July 19, half the municipal government’s fleet of cars will be barred from the roads. This goes beyond their announcement last week that 30 per cent of government cars would be off the roads from July 1-19.

Authorities announced last week that, from July 20 to September 20, the capital’s 3.3 million car owners would be subjected to odd-even traffic restrictions to help ease congestion and reduce pollution.

“If the last number of your registration is odd, you can only drive on odd dates,” city government spokesman Zhou Zhengyu said.

They also said last week that 70 per cent of government cars would be off the roads from July 20 to September 20.

Yesterday’s statement said: “China has made a solemn commitment to the international community to bring air quality up to standard and ensure that traffic is safe and smooth. This is very important for us in hosting a high-level Olympics and Paralympics.”

Pollution and gridlocked traffic have been major worries for the country in the lead-up to the Games, and many international athletes and environmentalists have voiced concern about the issues.

The Canadian athletics team has said it will skip the opening ceremony for the Games, partly over concerns about pollution, traffic and access to training facilities. Former world champion marathon runner and ex-director of the Australian Institute of Sport, Robert de Castella, warned competitors in the marathon they would face tough conditions because of Beijing’s chronic pollution.

China would suffer a bigger loss of face if the International Olympic Committee was forced to reschedule endurance events to prevent damage to athletes’ health – a move it has said it would not hesitate to take.

We Must Act To Curb Pollution Caused By Port

Updated on Jun 24, 2008 – SCMP

Your leader on the Civic Exchange report, describing the burden of pollution which results from Hong Kong’s port operations (“Take pollution fight to region’s ports”, June 18), contrasts with the stereotyped comments of the deputy director of marine (“Use policies on fuel tax to lower port pollution: study”, June 18).

He offers only caveats on the costs of the transition from the current use of polluting fuels to an essential and effective air quality management strategy. There are many reasons why he could have publicly recognised that a rapid solution to this problem was imperative for all marine activities in Hong Kong.

Why does he feel it necessary to take this line when there is even strong support from the shipping industry itself to clean up?

For years, all government departments voicing a view on pollution issues have, as a reflex, given primacy to the relatively minor operational and economic aspects of the transition to cleaner fuels rather than the fact that emissions of sulfur dioxide, and toxic metals such as nickel from heavy residual oil, kill hundreds and damage the health of thousands each year.

We also showed this month that the external costs paid by the general population for pollution amount to a major cause of environmental injustice and that burning dirty fuel is a false economy (“Young and old pay high price for bad delta air”, June 12).

We should remind ourselves that, overnight, on June 30 to July 1, 1990, Hong Kong permanently restricted the territory-wide landside use of fuels to those with not more than 0.5 per cent sulfur content.

The operational and economic turbulence was minimal in all sectors burning fossil fuels. Annual deaths fell by 600 a year, mainly from heart and lung diseases, and there were health gains at all ages, especially in children. Unfortunately, that event 18 years ago was the last significant impact on air concentrations of pollutants in Hong Kong. Today, almost 4 million people are affected by the plumes created from intensive dirty port activities, with predictable health impacts. We need an intersectoral approach to pollution abatement in our shipping channels and ports as an urgent public health priority.

Anthony J. Hedley, department of community medicine, school of public health, University of Hong Kong