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Traffic, not bridge, ’cause of pollution’

South China Morning Post – 24 August 2011

Government’s lawyer in HK-Zhuhai-Macau link appeal case argues that EIA law is just one legislative tool available to protect environment

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Ordinance is neither toothless nor the only legislative tool available to protect Hong Kong’s environment, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.

Benjamin Yu, for the Environmental Protection Department, made this submission in the government’s appeal against a court ruling that quashed the environmental permit for the proposed Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

The ruling – handed down in April by Mr Justice Joseph Fok in a judicial review filed by Tung Chung resident Chu Yee-wah – was based on the ground that the bridge’s impact assessment report did not a present a standalone analysis of projected environmental conditions without the bridge.

Without the analysis, it would be difficult to measure the impact of such factors as air pollution, and impose appropriate mitigation measures, the ruling said.

But Yu said the traffic on the bridge, rather than the bridge itself, would be the source of pollution and this could be dealt with by other laws.

“During the bridge’s operational phase, pollution is not caused by the bridge but the vehicles using it, which are subject to a different set of control regimes on the engine or the vehicle fuels,” he told Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching, Madam Justice Carlye Chu Fun-ling and Justice Michael  Hartmann.

Yu made the point to support his claim that Hong Kong had two different environmental protection  approaches.

One, the environmental impact assessment system, focused on the maximum allowable cumulative pollution impact on the environment. The other approach focused on minimising the impact of individual activity.

Yu said Fok had seemed to fail to note that both approaches were part of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance – which specifies the maximum allowable air pollutant concentration and the best practical means to lower pollution for certain  activities.

“The Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance is … only one piece of legislation in the whole arm of environmental protection in Hong Kong,” he said.

Yu went on to suggest that the key issue was not whether the EIA law “lacks somehow armoury or ammunition” to protect the environment because the law mainly covered procedural matters.

As to how and what impact assessments, including the standalone analysis in question, should be done were set out in other documents like the technical memorandum and study brief issued by the Director of Environmental Protection.

Yu admitted that it was technically possible to carry out a separate assessment for the standalone analysis but that had never been required in the bridge impact study. There were also no guidelines or parameters for carrying out the analysis.

Yu will continue his submissions today.

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