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Environmental assessment system is failing to protect vulnerable sites

South China Morning Post – 28 July 2011

I refer to your editorial on Hong Kong’s environmental impact assessments (“Impact assessment in need of review”, July 22).

It is timely given that I am involved in opposing plans for building an artificial island together with a mega waste incinerator beside southwest Shek Kwu Chau, in the otherwise unspoiled waters along southern Lantau.

I considered the EIA report on possible sites for waste incinerators to be strongly biased towards making the Shek Kwu Chau site appear a viable choice, and deficient concerning potential pollution, as well as impacts on scenery, biodiversity, and Hong Kong people’s quality of life.

So when I attended a public session of an Advisory Council on the Environment subcommittee meeting on the report, I looked forward to hearing some strong criticisms, with ACE members pointing out the report’s many shortcomings. Instead, there was little of substance and to my mind the subcommittee functioned largely as a rubber stamp for the report.

What also struck me was that though the meeting included government officials and consultants, together with ACE members, it appeared not one person present was an expert in waste incineration. Indeed, after a little research I felt better informed than most people who spoke. In this case, then, the EIA process was particularly deficient. Not only was the government both proposing and judging a project that would cause environmental damage, but the EIA was discussed by a government-appointed body, with ACE chair Paul Lam Kwan-sing admitting that members lack certain expertise (“Green law has limited impact”, July 19).

The government subsequently withdrew the EIA report, after a judicial review found serious issues with the EIA for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. This suggests that though ACE passed the report, the government lacks confidence in it.

Clearly, a better system is needed, not just a bureaucratic mechanism. I believe there is a case for leadership coupled with true dialogue with Hong Kong people; both are sorely lacking at present.

The choice of Shek Kwu Chau for the artificial island where the incinerator is planned has arisen not through vision, but through the government fumbling for a strategy, with a series of consultations, reports and committee meetings that have failed to tackle the root causes of Hong Kong’s waste problem.

Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors

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