Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)1240

Ref : CB1/PL/EA

Report of the Panel on Environmental Affairs for submission to the Provisional Legislative Council


This report gives an account of the work of the Panel on Environmental Affairs for tabling at the meeting of the Provisional Legislative Council on 8 April 1998 in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Provisional Legislative Council.

The Panel

2.The Panel was formed by resolution of the Council on 16 July 1997 for the purpose of monitoring and examining Government policies and issues of public concern relating to environmental and conservation matters. The terms of reference of the Panel is at Appendix I.

3.The Panel comprises 18 members. Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin and Hon LAU Kong-wah were elected Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Panel respectively. A membership list of the Panel is at Appendix II.

Major work

4.In July 1997, in the wake of the spate of sewage leaks which resulted in the temporary closure of some beaches in Tuen Mun and Stanley, the Panel called a special meeting with the Administration and deliberated on the effectiveness of the emergency response plan. The Panel took note of the measures introduced by the Administration to improve the procedure for responding to emergency situations which might affect beach water quality as well as the Government's plan to commission a consultancy study to identify the list of beaches susceptible to pollution by discharges from sewage treatment plants and to advise on short-term and long-term measures to reduce the risks. Members however considered that there was room for improving the communication among Government departments especially in emergency situations and a need to enforce the environmental laws more vigorously to protect water quality.

5.The subject of waste management was a major concern of the Panel. After seeking a briefing by the Administration on the consultation paper on the Draft Waste Reduction Plan for Hong Kong, members exchanged views with the Administration on the management of municipal wastes, construction wastes, and wastes which required sophisticated treatment such as clinical and chemical wastes. In this respect, members noted that the Administration intended to utilise the Chemical Waste Treatment Centre at Tsing Yi for treating clinical wastes. Members urged the Administration to consult the relevant Provisional District Boards and professions concerned, as well as study the environmental and financial assessments before making a final decision. Members took note of the present unsatisfactory arrangement of disposing animal carcasses in existing landfills and the Administration's preliminary idea of building an animal cremator in the North District as an interim measure. Since it would take a number of years to materialise the building plan and in recognition of the fact that a 18-month feasibility study had been commissioned in September 1997 to explore the viability of building waste-to-energy incinerators in Hong Kong to incinerate different types of wastes, members urged the Administration to seriously consider the cost-effectiveness of the proposal. Given the difficulties in identifying new sites for landfills for disposal of wastes, members supported that waste-to-energy incineration should be the way forward and waste reduction was the only sustainable method in the long run. With a view to encouraging waste reduction, reuse and recycling, members noted that a landfill charging scheme would soon be put into place. To gain a better understanding of the treatment and disposal process, the Panel visited the Tsing Yi Chemical Waste Treatment Centre, the West Kowloon Transfer Station and the South East New Territories Landfill.

6.On air quality, the Panel noted at a briefing by the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands that the Government planned to launch the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Taxi Trial Scheme to explore the possibility of introducing a cleaner alternative fuel to diesel in Hong Kong. The Panel noted that liquefied petroleum gas vehicles had been widely used in other countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. Reckoning that gas vehicles would greatly help reduce the content of respirable suspended particulates in the air but in view of the concerns of the transport trade on the performance and operational costs of liquefied petroleum gas taxis, the Panel conducted a joint meeting with the Panel on Transport to examine the operational details of the Scheme prior to its launch in November 1997. Members noted that a series of measures would be taken by the Administration to ensure safety of liquefied petroleum gas vehicles, including disallowing conversion of diesel or petrol-driven vehicles into liquefied petroleum gas vehicles, designating filling stations at least 55 metres from residential buildings and requiring maintenance services to be provided by recognised competent persons. After running the Trial Scheme for about four months, the Administration briefed members on the interim findings which showed that LPG taxis were quieter, more comfortable and less polluting than diesel taxis and had comparable serviceable life, capital and maintenance costs. Members requested the Administration to expedite the Trial Scheme, formulate plans to introduce LPG taxis on a large scale and actively explore the feasibility of extending the use of LPG to other types of vehicles.

7.The Panel was invited by the Administration to give views on the proposal to close the Sewage Services Trading Fund. Members noted that the Trading Fund was forecast to have an operating deficit of $261 million before depreciation in 1997-98. In anticipation of a rapid and sustained growth in operating expenditure as new facilities were brought to stream, the Trading Fund would not break even in the near future even with marked annual increases in the sewage charges. Whilst agreeing that the only way to make up the deficits of the Trading Fund was through injection of funds from the General Revenue, members stressed the need to critically review this experience and the overall sewage charging scheme which had not been accepted by some trades. In this connection, members welcomed the proposal to simplify and streamline the appeal procedure following a review on the Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme. The Panel, however, was disappointed at the delay in completing Phase I of the Environmental Impact Assessment Study for Stage II of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme and urged the Administration to consult members on the outcome of the Study once it was available.

8.Given that pollution was no respecter of administrative boundaries, the Panel urged the Administration to liaise closely and strengthen cooperation with the Mainland authorities in addressing environmental issues of mutual concerns. For example, to maximise utilisation of the Chemical Waste Treatment Centre, the Administration might consider extending the service of the Centre to receive chemical wastes produced in the Pearl River Delta. Hong Kong, on the other hand, lacked storage and disposal facilities to treat its low-radioactive wastes and might make use of such facilities in the Mainland. Members noted that with the establishment of the Hong Kong-Guangdong Environmental Protection Liaison Group, studies on a wide range of environmental issues had been undertaken, notably the Deep Bay Regional Control Strategy, and joint studies on Mirs Bay and on conservation and protection of Chinese White Dolphins. Notwithstanding the issue of a press release after each meeting of the Liaison Group to inform the public of the outcome, members called for its enhanced transparency. To improve the quality of Dongjiang water supplied to Hong Kong, members noted the Administration's proposal to provide an interest-free loan of HK$2.364 billion to the Guangdong Provincial People's Government for the purpose of constructing a new closed aqueduct. Taking into account the reduced growth of water demand from Hong Kong, the Guangdong side agreed to reduce the agreed annual quantity of water supply from the years 1998 to 2004.

9.From July 1997 to April 1998, the Panel held a total of 13 meetings of which three were joint meetings with other panels and conducted two visits.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
1 April 1998