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April 23rd, 2009:

Objections To Sludge Incinerator Overriden – Officials Seek Funding For Tuen Mun Project

Agnes Lam, SCMP – Apr 23, 2009

The government will press ahead with plans for a sludge incinerator in Tuen Mun despite strong opposition from the district council and residents.

About 80 residents holding banners and chanting slogans greeted Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah yesterday outside the Tuen Mun Government Offices, as he attended a district council meeting about the plan.

“No sludge incinerator! Better planning for Tuen Mun!” they shouted as they submitted a letter to the minister voicing their discontent.

Two motions were passed objecting to the project and calling for the government not to seek funds from the Legislative Council until it had committed itself to better planning for the district, which sees itself as a dumping ground for industries no one else wants.

But Mr Yau said later the project was urgent and discussions with the council and residents could go on while the government pressed ahead with seeking funding of HK$4 billion.

District councillor Chan Shu-ying said: “We expressed objection even when the government told us it planned to do an environmental assessment for the project. We will object to this sludge incinerator project.

“The Tuen Mun Development Liaison Working Group set up in March had its first meeting in the same month and 10 suggestions were raised during the meeting for the better development of Tuen Mun. Nothing has been done and no consensus has been reached, but now the government wants to dump an incinerator here.”

Another district councillor, Ho Hang-mui, accused the government of ignoring the views of residents and councillors on the project.

“The government has no respect for Tuen Mun District Council at all. If the environmental assessment report says how pretty and harmless the facility will be then the government should build it in West Kowloon so that members of the public can see it and have access to its education and resources centre to learn about it,” Ms Ho said.

Executive councillor Lau Wong-fat, the district council’s chairman, also called on the government to delay its plan to seek funds.

“I really think the government should give us all more time to discuss it,” he said. “Does it have to be so urgent? More time is needed for talking to residents. When legislators learn that we object to the plan, that will not be good for the government.” The Environment Bureau will seek funding from Legco’s public works subcommittee and Finance Committee next month.

Mr Yau said: “The government will continue to engage in talks with the district council about introducing better planning for Tuen Mun. The discussion can work at the same time with the administration seeking funds from the Legco. There is an urgency to build the facility, as the amount of sludge handled now is 800 tonnes and the amount will go up to 1,500 tonnes in 2014.” Mr Yau said the government would explain more about the project to ease the worries of councillors and residents.

A better environment

Tuen Mun District Council’s 10-point wish list for development

  • Strengthen the railway connection between Tuen Mun and other parts of the city and the mainland by including the district on the West Rail line and Hong Kong-Shenzhen railway
  • Improve traffic by broadening some roads
  • Revitalise Tuen Mun industrial area
  • Better planning for Zone 38, site of many unpopular facilities
  • Start a cross-border ferry service
  • Scrap a proposal to build a crematorium in Zone 36 and improve economic planning
  • Install air quality monitors
  • Replan and develop clinics
  • Roll out more greening projects
  • Make Castle Peak Bay a tourist spot

Delta Air Quality ‘Making Huge Gains’ – Officials Claim Success In Anti-pollution Drive

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Apr 23, 2009

Environmental officials have claimed “huge” success in efforts to improve air quality in the Pearl River Delta, although they admit plummeting industrial production could have had something to do with it.

They say that after completion of major sulfur-reduction projects in Guangdong and a switch to cleaner industrial and vehicle fuel, concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air fell by a third in the six months to March compared with a year earlier.

The drop was in line with a general improvement in air quality in the region as reported in the latest regional air quality monitoring results for last year, released yesterday.

A Hong Kong environmental official said factory closures could have been a factor and monitoring over a longer period was needed to be sure. “But so far we do not believe the financial tsunami alone could have brought such huge progress.”

The results showed that the annual average concentration for sulfur dioxide, a major pollutant from fuel combustion, dropped by 19 per cent compared with 2007, while the particulate matter level fell 11 per cent.

The levels of two other pollutants, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, however, remained largely the same as in the previous year.

It was the third report on the region’s air quality since a cross-border monitoring network, with 16 stations in Guangdong and Hong Kong, came into operation in late 2005. The network provides the regional air quality monitoring index daily on the websites of the Environmental Protection Department and Guangdong Environmental Protection Bureau.

The report showed that the proportion of days with the worst air quality dropped from 10.5 per cent in 2007 to 7.5 per cent last year, while good air quality days increased to 71 per cent, from 66 per cent in 2007.

Pollution also reduced significantly in individual areas, particularly in the black-spot cities of Foshan and Zhaoqing .

Despite the improvement, a Hong Kong environmental official was cautious about saying last year represented a watershed in the battle to reverse the trend of worsening air quality in the delta. “We need more monitoring data, say, for five years, to ascertain that,” he said.

The official attributed the change to the completion of desulfurisation projects at major power plants in Guangdong. Coal-fired plants with a total capacity of 26,000MW were fitted with sulfur scrubbers last year, more than double the capacity in late 2007. Smaller polluting generation units with a total capacity of 3,600MW have been closed down.

The official said upgrading vehicle fuel with less sulfur in Guangdong and using ultra-low-sulfur fuel for industries in Hong Kong also added to the progress. Sulfur dioxide and particulate levels in Hong Kong fell by 7 and 5 per cent last year, though the ozone level rose by 5 per cent, he said.

The sky has also cleared somewhat, with the number of hours with poor visibility falling to 1,100 last year, from nearly 1,300 hours in 2007, the Observatory has reported.

California approves emissions reductions

McClatchy Newspapers, By KEVIN YAMAMURA

23th April, 2009

California became the first state in the nation Thursday to mandate carbon-based reductions in transportation fuels in an attempt to cut the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The California Air Resources Board approved a phased-in reduction starting in 2011, with a goal of shrinking carbon impacts 10 percent by 2020. Fuel producers can comply in different ways, such as providing a cleaner fuel portfolio, blending low-carbon ethanol with gasoline or purchasing credits from other clean-energy producers.

California‘s low-carbon fuel standard could lead to a national measure under President Barack Obama, as well as shape how the transportation sector evolves. But businesses and oil industry critics warned that more research is necessary and that its action would lead to higher costs for consumers in a recessionary economy.

Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols hailed the low-carbon fuel standard as a major step in moving the nation away from oil dependence and toward alternative fuels that generate lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“By changing the way we think about fuels and requiring them all to be lower carbon, I think we are now finally creating an opportunity for other types of advanced transportation to compete on a level playing field,” Nichols said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the air board in 2007 to consider a low-carbon fuel standard as way to meet the state’s overall goal of cutting greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020, as mandated by a 2006 law.

The air board looked at the entire carbon “intensity” of fuels, rather than the impact of emissions from use alone. That meant considering the emissions from the start of production to lasting impacts not directly related to fuel supply.

That led to some controversy over the air board’s regulations dealing with corn-based ethanol producers.

A staff analysis assigned additional greenhouse-gas consequences to their fuels alone based on the potential impacts that ethanol production has on forests and green space. The theory is that increased ethanol production reduces the existing amount of farmland for food crops, which in turn leads to cultivation of untouched land that previously captured carbon.

Ethanol advocates challenged the report’s findings, disputing that their corn-based production had a significant impact on greenhouse-gas increases elsewhere. But they also suggested that petroleum and other fuels were not given the same treatment.

Gen. Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, testified on behalf of Growth Energy, an ethanol advocacy group. He said that greenhouse-gas emissions related to the U.S. military in the Middle East should be considered as part of oil’s calculation.

“There are indirect effects for many fuels, but the only indirect effects that have been looked at are the indirect effects in land use for biofuels,” Clark said. “So if we’re going to look at indirect effects, and I think we should, you have to take a broader look and roll in more.”

The air board promised to work with ethanol producers to update formulas related to the indirect effects of fuels as warranted by future research. But it stood by its findings that other fuels did not have significant indirect impacts.

“The preliminary analysis is there is no other fossil fuel option that has any direct land use effect that comes anywhere near any of the biofuels,” said Daniel Sperling, an air board member and a University of California-Davis transportation studies expert. “We will be looking carefully to make sure that initial assessment is correct. But I do want to make it clear there was no effort just to focus on the biofuels.”

Environmentalists and health organizations praised the low-carbon fuel standard as a significant step toward shrinking the state’s carbon footprint and providing cleaner air for residents.

Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the National Resources Defense Council, said the ethanol regulation is appropriate because it will force ethanol producers to seek cleaner and more sustainable forms of fuel production.

Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior policy director for the American Lung Association of California, testified that the new fuel standard would help “reverse the legacy of negative air quality, public health and environmental impacts from petroleum fuels.”

But oil producers said too many uncertainties surrounded the new regulation and could lead to unintended consequences, such as supply problems.

“We know that when (consumers) want fuel, they want it when they want it and where they want it, and they want it to be affordable,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd of the Western States Petroleum Association. “And if they don’t have that, they’re usually pretty expressive about how unhappy they may be.”

Small business groups also testified in opposition Thursday, some noting that California could hurt its businesses by forcing them to pay higher costs to comply.

“We’re doing this alone, and what concerns us is that we might really put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” said Mark Martinez, CEO of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “So I want to caution you to really evaluate the concerns of the economy and our small businesses.”