Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1)516/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/EA

LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Thursday, 15 October 1998, at 8:45 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)
Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP

Members absent :

Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Public officers attending :

Mr Bowen LEUNG
Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands

Mr Rob LAW
Director of Environmental Protection

Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environmental and Lands (Environment)
Clerk in attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1
Staff in attendance :

Ms Pauline NG,
Assistant Secretary General 1

Mrs Mary TANG,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2
I Policy briefing by Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands on the Chief Executive's Policy Address 1998

At the invitation of the Chairman, the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands (SPEL) highlighted the policy objective and policy areas relating to the environment for the year ahead. SPEL stated that the policy objective was to improve the urban, rural and marine environment. The Administration had taken into account the need to conserve and protect the environment in formulating the Territorial Development Strategy. He stressed that recognising the relationship between economic, social and environmental issues was crucial to the sustainable development of Hong Kong. By next year, all government bureaux, departments, and public owned corporations were expected to publish annual reports on their environmental policies.

2. Of various environmental policies, SPEL highlighted in particular the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme (SSDS). He said that the Administration would finalise the recommendations on the choice of option for Stage II of SSDS upon the completion of the consultation process. He referred members to other programme areas on the environment which were detailed in the booklet entitled "Improve Our Urban, Rural and Marine Environment" which had been distributed to members.

Formation of a new policy bureau responsible for food and the environment

3. Noting the proposed setting up of a new department and a new policy bureau responsible for food and the environment in the Policy Address, the Chairman sought clarification on the future organisation of the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau (PELB). SPEL indicated that the staff and resources of the Environment Division of PELB would be transferred to the new Bureau but the exact timetable had yet to be decided. The Chairman remarked that the scope of responsibility of the new Bureau should include energy efficiency and conservation so that the overall environmental policy in this aspect could be better coordinated. SPEL concurred that this would be the right way forward but the issue would need to be further looked into.

Air quality

4. On members' concern about the deteriorating air quality in the territory, the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that the problem was largely attributed to emissions from diesel taxis, public light buses, heavy goods vehicles, franchise buses, industrial sources and construction activities. Hong Kong's neighbouring areas also had a growing influence on the local air quality. Subject to funding approval, the Administration would also commence a joint study with the Guangdong authorities on the sources of air pollution in the Pearl River Delta Region.

5. As regards street level pollution, DEP said that this was a problem of considerable concern, particularly to those who spent a lot of time on streets. To tackle the problem, the Administration would start off with the introduction of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) taxis. It would then consult the trade on the use of an alternative fuel for public light buses. SPEL added that the Administration had taken measures on various fronts to resolve the air pollution in Hong Kong. These included -

  1. adopting the more stringent European Union Phase II vehicle emission standards;

  2. proposing to ban the sale of leaded petrol in Hong Kong in 1999;

  3. using fuel with a low sulphur content of 0.05% which would reduce the emission of particulates and hydrocarbons;

  4. commencing study on the use of chassis dynamometer test to measure smoke emissions from heavy duty vehicles;

  5. using portable smoke testing equipment to strengthen enforcement against smoky vehicles; and

  6. introducing legislation to increase the fixed penalty for emitting excessive smoke from vehicles in the 1999-2000 legislative session.
6. A member sought detailed information on the air monitoring system. DEP advised in response that there were 12 monitoring stations in Hong Kong located in various districts, including roadside monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, and general ambient monitoring stations in urban areas. The Tap Mun monitoring station was responsible for monitoring air quality from the North and a new monitoring station would be opened in Tung Chung. Air pollution indices for each of these stations were published on a daily basis. By early next year, the Administration would be automatically updating the air pollution index on the Internet. The member requested and the Administration agreed to provide information on the location of the 12 monitoring stations. Admin

LPG taxis

7. Noting that a consultation paper on Liquefied Petroleum Gas Taxi would be issued on 16 October 1998, a member expressed concern on the absence of details on the Administration's plan to replace diesel taxis with LPG taxis. She sought the Administration's undertaking that the operating costs of LPG taxis would not be higher than those of diesel taxis. She pointed out that the switch from diesel taxis to LPG taxis in Japan was successful because the price of diesel was twice that of LPG. However, in the case of Hong Kong, there was no economic incentive for the switch because the price difference between diesel and LPG was insignificant. Moreover, using diesel was 30% more cost-effective. Coupled with the higher maintenance cost and the shorter lifespan of LPG taxis, using LPG taxis was not financially viable for the trade unless there was a substantial downward adjustment in the price of LPG. Furthermore, the trade was also concerned about the inconvenience caused by the inadequate number of LPG filling stations.

8. In response, SPEL said that the Administration noted the concerns of the trade which would be addressed in the consultation paper. Representatives from the trade had taken an active part in the LPG Taxi Trial Scheme. SPEL concurred that the price of LPG was an important factor in the successful implementation of LPG Taxi Scheme. He undertook that the operating costs of LPG taxis would not be higher than the present operating costs of diesel taxis. The Administration would explore with the taxi trade and relevant parties on the means to ensure that the operating costs of LPG taxis and diesel taxis were comparable. As regards the availability of LPG filling stations, SPEL advised that the Government had already identified sites for building 30 to 40 stations which would be required in the first year upon the implementation of the switch. The Vocational Training Council would run a training course on the repair and maintenance of LPG taxis to ensure that sufficient trained technicians would be available to tie in with the large scale introduction of LPG vehicles by the end of 2000.

9. Following up on the price of LPG, the member was concerned about the possibility of the Administration deliberately increasing the price of diesel to create a greater price difference between diesel and LPG to facilitate the switch. She pointed out that the import price of LPG in 1997 was $2.99 per litre (L) and the selling price was $8.12/L. In 1998, the import price was lowered to $1.12/L but the selling price was increased to $8.35/L. She queried the lack of action on the part of the Administration in rectifying this anomaly which would not be conducive to the implementation of the LPG Taxi Scheme.

10. In response, SPEL stated categorically that the Administration had never considered raising the price of diesel deliberately in order to encourage the switch to LPG. He said that the Administration was aware of the difference in the import and selling prices of LPG and would discuss with the fuel companies. The Chairman was of view that the issue could be further followed up by the Competition Policy Advisory Group under the chairmanship of the Financial Secretary.

11. The member informed that the findings of a recent research study by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University showed that particulate filter, if fitted to diesel engines, could reduce the emission of respiratory suspended particulates by 30%. The study was originally sponsored by the taxi trade and was carried on with the financial support of the University. She called on the Administration to subsidise such kind of studies which were beneficial to the society as a whole. SPEL said in response that the Administration was supportive of research studies which would improve the environment. Members of the public could apply for the Environment and Conservation Fund to conduct research studies for environmental purposes. The member said that she would liaise with the University on the matter.

12. On the possibility of introducing LPG buses, SPEL advised that at present LPG buses were not feasible technically. In the meantime, improvement on bus emissions could be made through better maintenance and the use of cleaner fuel.

Waste reduction and recycling

13. A member opined that the Government should take the lead in reducing waste. He expressed concern about the amount of waste generated from excessive distribution of commercial information and advertising materials. In this connection, he sought information on the composition of the Waste Reduction Committee to be set up in early 1999. SPEL replied that the Administration would solicit the support of the business community in implementing the waste reduction strategy. The Waste Reduction Committee would comprise representatives from different sectors of the community, including green groups, Government departments and interested groups but the membership of which had yet to be confirmed.

14. Members stressed the importance of waste recycling to prolong the lifespan of landfills. They requested the Administration to provide financial incentives to operators of waste recycling businesses. SPEL indicated that the Government had been assisting the recycling industries by providing land at a low premium for the operation of recycling activities. To find a market for recycled materials had always been a problem. It was noted that the recycling business had been affected by the recent economic downturn. The Government might need to take a fresh look at measures to encourage waste segregation and recycling.

15. Members pointed out that Government should take the lead in using recycled materials and explore how recycling could be made an economically viable business. DEP supplemented that Hong Kong had a market for recycled materials, in particular recycled paper. The recovery rate for aluminium cans was as high as 98%. The main difficulty rested with collection of materials for recycling. The Administration was committed to providing a better system of collection and segregation of waste. A member opined that it was necessary to provide economic incentives for collection of waste. Members noted that the subject of waste reduction had been scheduled for discussion at the Panel meeting on 6 November 1998.

Pollution problem of foam boxes

16. A member was concerned that, with the implementation of whole-day primary schooling in 2007-2008, about 400,000 primary students would need to have lunch at school. This would undoubtedly increase the use of foam lunch boxes. He enquired whether the Administration had any plans to tackle the problem.

17. SPEL explained that the disposal of foam boxes was not a pressing issue as their quantity was relatively small. At present there was no better replacement for foam boxes. The experience in Guangzhou showed that the replacement had caused no less environmental problems than foam boxes. To get around the problem, the best way was to avoid the use of disposable material, for example by encouraging students to bring their own lunch boxes or schools to provide food on washable dishes. The joint efforts of schools, students and parents were necessary to resolve the pollution problem of foam boxes. Members requested and the Administration agreed to discuss the matter with the Education Department and to provide a paper to the Panel on the progress after six months. Admin

Pollution problem of Shing Mun River

18. On the pollution problem of Shing Mun River, DS/PEL advised that the Civil Engineering Department would be expected to complete the detailed design of bio-remediation works by mid-2000. The actual bio-remediation works would start in 2001 but some dredging works would be carried out before then. The Administration believed that coupled with dredging, the bio-remediation works would effectively deal with the pollutants that were built up in the river bed. In response to members, the Administration agreed to provide details on the works to be undertaken and the timetable to resolve the pollution problem of Shing Mun River. Admin

Environmental effects of reclamation, dredging and dumping

19. Responding to a member's concern about the adverse affects of reclamation, dredging and dumping on marine lives, SPEL indicated that environmental impact assessment studies (EIA) would invariably be done to assess possible effects on marine ecology prior to conducting reclamation, dredging and dumping works. Based on the results of EIA, necessary mitigating measures would be undertaken to protect marine lives. Environmental monitoring would continue after the completion of the works and water samples would be collected for after-effect analysis. In the case of Sha Chau, the water samples taken at the dumping site had shown even improvement in water quality and marine ecology.

Studies on endangered species

20. Responding to a member's enquiry on the feasibility of combining the studies on Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoises, SPEL advised that separate studies had to be conducted because these were different kinds of animals with different habitat and ecological preference.

Inspection visits

21. Referring to the Administration's proposal of undertaking at least 50,000 inspection visits to workplaces with occupational safety and health risks from hazardous vapour, a member queried its practicability. SPEL indicated that this target was set by the Labour Department and would be reviewed from time to time.

II Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(1)323/98-99)

22. The minutes of meeting on 11 September 1998 were confirmed.

III Date of next meeting and items for discussion

23. Members agreed to hold a joint meeting with the Transport Panel on 6 November 1998 at 9:00 am to discuss the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Taxi Trial Scheme.

(Post meeting note: The regular meeting of the Panel would be held on 6 November 1998 at 10:45 am to discuss the proposal of Hong Kong Electric Company Limited to build a new power generating facility at Lamma Island and the Waste Reduction Framework Plan.)

IV Any other business

24. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:00 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
23 November 1998