The Panel on Environmental Affairs for submission to the Provisional Legislative Council Purpose
1. 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.
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.
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 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 Paned. 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 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 Admininstration 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-engery 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 Center, 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. 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. Members requested the Administration to expedite the Trail Scheme to assess the feasibility of introducing a cleaner alternative to diesel to tackle air pollution at source.
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 increased 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 ands streamline the appeal procedure following a review on the Trade Effluent Surcharge Scheme.
8. Given that pollution was no respecter of administrative boundaries, the Panel urged the Administration to liaise closely with the Mainland authorities in addressing environmental issues of mutual concerns. 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 Whit Dolphins. Notwithstanding the issues of a press release after each meeting of the Liaison Group to inform the public of the outcome, members called for its enhanced transparency.
9. From July 1997 to March 1998, the Panel held a total of 13 meetings of which three were joint meeting with other panels and conducted three visits.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
21 March 1998