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Advisory Council on the Environment

Confirmed Minutes of the 78th Meeting of the Advisory Council on the Environment held on 19 September 2000 at 2:30 p.m.

Present:

Mr. Peter H. Y. WONG, GBS, JP (Chairman)  
Mr. Clement CHEN  
Mr. Paul C. H. FAN, JP  
Professor Anthony HEDLEY, BBS, JP  
Professor Peter HILLS  
Professor LAM Kin-che (EIA Subcommittee Chairman)  
Mr. Edwin LAU  
Mr. LIN Chaan-ming  
Dr. NG Cho-nam  
Mr. PAO Ping-wing, JP  
Ms Iris TAM  
Miss Alex YAU  
Mr. Plato YIP  
Mr. Donald TONG (Secretary)  




Absent with Apologies:
Mr. CHAN Kwok-wai, JP
Miss Ann CHIANG
Mr. Barrie COOK
Dr. HO Kin-chung
Mr. Joseph LAU Man-wai, JP
Dr. LEONG Che-hung, JP
Mr. Otto L. T. POON
Mr. Michael J. D. RUSHWORTH



 

In Attendance:

Mr. Paul TANG Acting Secretary for the Environment and Food
Mr. Kim SALKELD Deputy Secretary (B), Environment and Food Bureau (EFB) (DS(B)/EFB)
Mr. Patrick LAU Acting Secretary for Planning and Lands (Ag.SPL)
Mr. Rob LAW Director of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Mr. Raymond CHIU Acting Deputy Director of Planning (Ag.DD/Plan D)
Mr. S P LAU Acting Deputy Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation (Ag.DD/AFCD)
Dr. Constance CHAN Assistant Director, Department of Health
Mrs. Pauline LING Chief Information Officer, EFB
Miss Petula POON Chief Executive Officer (B), EFB
Ms. Polly LEUNG Principal Information Officer, EPD
Miss Cora SO Executive Officer (B), EFB




In Attendance for Agenda Item 4

Mr. Howard CHAN Principal Assistant Secretary (C), EFB (PAS(C)/EFB)
Dr. Alain LAM Principal Environmental Protection Officer, EPD (PEPO/EPD)




In Attendance for Agenda Item 5 :

Mr. Benny WONG Assistant Director (Waste and Water), EPD (AD(WW)/EPD)
Mr. Peter WHITESIDE Chief Geotechnical Engineer (Fill Management), Civil Engineering Department (CGE(FM)/CED)
Mr. Henry CHAN Chi-yan Chief Engineer (Port Works), CED (CE(PW)/CED)
Mr. Jerry HO Senior Geotechnical Engineer (Fill Resources), CED (SGE(FR)/CED)
Mr. Raymond CHENG Nim-tai Engineer (Public Filling), CED (E(PF)/CED)

*************************


Agenda Item 1 : Confirmation of Minutes of the 77th Meeting held on 28 August 2000

Members noted a Member's proposed amendments to para. 12 of the minutes of the 77th meeting. The minutes were confirmed subject to that Member's and SEF's amendments, if any, when she had sight of the minutes upon return from an overseas visit.

Agenda Item 2 : Matters Arising

Para. 1 : Confirmed minutes of the 76th meeting

2. Members noted that the Secretariat had passed the confirmed minutes of the 76th meeting to EPD so that it could make reference to Members' comments on the EIA report on the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line by KCRC.

3. In reply to the Chairman's enquiry on the latest development of the Spur Line case, DEP said that KCRC had submitted additional information on 18 September. His Department was considering the information in conjunction with AFCD and would respond to KCRC within 30 days as from 18 September.

Para. 6 : Recommendations on relieving the EIA Subcommittee's workload

4. The Chairman said that this item would be covered under Item Agenda 3.

Para. 45 : Decrease in the number of water quality monitoring stations

5. In response to a Member's query at the last meeting regarding the decrease in the number of water quality monitoring stations, DEP said that the decrease was due to the unavailability of the sites arising from, for example, development of the area concerned or inaccessibility of the stations.

6. A Member was concerned whether the decrease in the number of stations would undermine the coverage and effectiveness of the monitoring network on the water quality of Hong Kong rivers. In response, DEP assured that Member that though the monitoring network focused on black spots where residual problems were found with livestock waste and villages without sewerage connections, the overall network remained effective. EPD would add new stations if necessary.

7. A Member asked whether EPD would consider installing equipment with more advanced technology in the existing stations. DEP said that the Department would do so if the new technology could enhance work efficiency or quality.

Para. 42 : Monitoring of import of live reef food fish

8. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Ag.DD/AFCD said that the Department had a preliminary meeting with organizations concerned and would continue a dialogue with them. The Chairman wished them every success in arrival at a satisfactory arrangement and looked forward to a future report.

Dinner with the International Review Panel (IRP)

9. The Chairman reported that he and some Members had an informal dinner with the IRP on 14 September. He was glad that the IRP had taken into full account views expressed by the public and the Council on the review of the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme.

 

Agenda Item 3 : Review of the Operation of the EIA Subcommittee
(ACE Paper 33/2000)


10. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman briefed Members on the findings and recommendations arising from the Subcommittee's review.

11. Noting a lack of well-defined policy on issues like conservation, the Chairman had reservations on asking the Subcommittee to give recommendations on such issues arising from individual EIA reports. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that the recurrence of debates on the same issues should serve as a signal to alert the Administration to formulate policies in those areas. DEP noted Members' concerns. However, he said that there was no need to worry about offering him advice that might be in conflict with Government polices as he was the final authority under the EIAO to decide whether an environmental permit should be issued. He based his judgment on a number of factors including the advice from ACE. Ag.DD/AFCD said that members could seek clarification from the Administration as and when necessary.

12. In response to a Member's enquiry on the cumulative impact of projects, the EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that the issue remained a critical matter of concern in the process of examining EIA reports. Nonetheless, due to the Subcommittee's repeated emphasis, proponents were now aware of the concern on cumulative impact and would proactively address it in their reports.

13. On the proposed set-up of the EIA Subcommittee, a Member suggested setting up Subcommittees which would specialize on subjects such as air, noise and water etc. In reply, the EIA Subcommittee Chairman said it might be difficult as experience in the past showed that most EIA reports, particularly those controversial ones, did cut across many areas. In addition, the current form of a cross-discipline subcommittee allowed Members more in-depth discussions, thereby avoiding escalating the detailed discussions to the main Council. The vetting function of the Subcommittee might be reduced if EIA reports were compartmentalized into different areas for discussion by several Subcommittees. A holistic approach would be more preferable.

14. Noting that the two options recommended by the Subcommittee could not relieve the workload of the core group Members, a Member suggested sharing the workload between two separate Subcommittees. The Chairmen of the two Subcommittees could have regular exchanges to maintain consistency in considering EIA reports. In response, the EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that under that Member's proposal, some Members would be deprived of the chance to take part in the discussions of reports which were supposed to be examined by the other Subcommittee. That Member said that those Members could join discussions on a voluntary basis. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman replied that Option B was in fact devised for this purpose. Another Member commented that in the long run, it would be more sustainable for the Subcommittee to engage persons who had time, knowledge, experience and insights in vetting EIA reports.

15. The Chairman asked the Subcommittee how much time they could save if technical assistance was provided in studying the reports. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman said that the Subcommittee was rather efficient in that aspect but it would be useful if the pink papers prepared by EPD could highlight issues of concern and summarize views and comments of parties concerned. The Subcommittee also proposed enlisting independent experts to give advice if there was a genuine need.

16. A Member doubted if the support from independent experts would be useful because the quality of advice could vary greatly. Another Member echoed that Member's point and said that the responsibility to prove the accuracy and adequacy of information presented in the report should rest with the proponents, not the other way round. He opined that a good EIA report should be intelligible to a layperson and Members should refuse to consider the reports if they were poorly written.

17. The Chairman asked whether EPD could offer more assistance to facilitate the Subcommittee's work. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman added that the inter-departmental Environmental Study Management Group had already vetted the EIA reports before submitting it to the Subcommittee, but the Subcommittee would still comment on the adequacy and the technical accuracy of the report and other areas of concern based on their knowledge and expertise. DEP explained that project proponents, in looking for options, would consider a whole range of factors. Some of the options would be rejected for technical reasons such as engineering problems which were beyond the expertise of his Department and the EIA Subcommittee to judge. The Chairman said that it would then be up to the Executive Council (ExCo) to take a balanced view of all factors affecting a project and make a decision. DEP explained, however, that by the time he made a decision on the EIA report, the project was already out of the hand of the ExCo and it would only be involved again when a proponent sought exemption from the EIA Ordinance through a supporting Government Bureau.

18. A Member said that the best way to improve the efficiency of the Subcommittee's work was to ensure that the reports had complied with the requirements stipulated under the Technical Memorandum (TM). He recalled that the reason for the lengthy discussions held with regard to the reports of the Disney Theme Park and the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line was that the TM requirements had not been strictly followed.

19. A Member emphasized that a centralized database on ecological baseline information of Hong Kong was needed to verify the reliability of the data in EIA reports.

20. The EIA Subcommittee Chairman concluded that Members' concerns were namely more focused pink papers, better quality control on EIA reports, and a centralized database on ecological baseline information of the territory. He added that the Subcommittee had no control on its workload as it could not regulate the timing of submissions of the EIA reports and the ACE had to advise the Director of Environmental Protection (DEP) within a statutory timeframe. It was not uncommon that whilst several reports were submitted in a month, no report was submitted in another. DEP commented that his Department had the same problem as the EIA Subcommittee.

21. In response to the Chairman's question on why the EIA Ordinance had defined a statuary timeframe for ACE to advise DEP, DEP explained that the purpose was to assist proponents in scheduling their projects as far as possible by specifying the various requirements they needed to go through within a time frame.

22. The Chairman said that the Council might not be in a position to make a decision on the recommendations now as some of them required guidance from or cooperation of the Government. He suggested the Administration review the practicality and feasibility of the recommendations first before the Council deliberated on them. DEP concurred with the Chairman since some of the recommendations would have legal implications and it would be premature to make a decision at this stage.

 


23. DS(B)/EFB thanked Members for their suggestions and undertook to respond to the Subcommittee's suggestions in due course. He proposed to put this item under "Matters Arising" or "Any Other Business" to keep Members abreast of the progress. Members agreed.
EFB & EPD


Agenda Item 4 : Proposed Air Pollution Control (Dry-cleaning Machines) (Vapour Recovery) Regulation
(ACE Paper 34/2000)

24. The Chairman welcomed PAS(C)/EFB and PEPO/EPD to the meeting. PAS(C)/EFB introduced the proposed control scheme, followed by PEPO/EPD's detailed briefing.

25. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, PEPO/EPD said that at present there were 400 dry-cleaning machines, comprising 200 vented machines and 200 non-vented substandard machines. Dry-cleaning operators could save about $10,000 - $15,000 each year (from the reduction in perchloroethylene (PCE) consumption) if they upgraded a vented machine to an up-to-standard one.

26. Referring to the keeping of a register on machines in the proposed regulation, a Member asked whether the register would maintain a record on the locations of individual machines since this would help the Government monitor the movements of substandard machines more effectively and tighten up control on their operations. PAS(C)/EFB clarified that the purpose of the proposed register was to provide the public with a list of approved machine models. EPD did have records of dry cleaning facilities in the territory but did not consider it necessary to track movements of all substandard machines. New machines would achieve savings and this would serve as financial incentives for operators to comply with the new standard requirements. In addition, penalty for non-compliance - a maximum penalty of $100,000 and an additional daily fine of $20,000 for continued non-compliance would serve as deterrence.

27. A Member said that he fully supported the proposed regulation but considered the grace period of five years too long because PCE emissions would continue during the transition. PEPO/EPD said that the grace period was determined after taking into account the economic hardship the trade had experienced and the environmental and health impact of PCE emissions. He assured Members that PCE emissions would not pose immediate threat to the community.

28. A Member said that since operators using an up-to-standard machine would save cost from reduced consumption of PCE, it appeared that all they needed was seed money to buy new machines. He wondered if the Government could assist the trade in this respect. In reply, PAS(C)/EFB said that the working life of the existing vented machines normally ranged from five to seven years. Given the five-year grace period, those machines would have reached their normal retirement age towards end of the grace period and the operators should be able to save enough money to buy new machines.

29. A Member noted that the trade had proposed that the Government should subsidize the machine modification or replacement through low interest loan. He asked whether that would be considered. PAS(C)/EFB said that Government did not see any overriding circumstances to go against the "Polluter-Pays-Principle" by providing any subsidy in the current exercise. That Member disagreed as the trade would have to pay back the loan to the Government. He hoped that the Government would consider the proposal favourably.

30. A Member was sympathetic to the owners of vented machines which could not be modified economically. She urged the Administration to consider offering low-interest loan to those operators. PAS(C)/EFB replied that the proposal had been thoroughly discussed with the trade and within Government. It was not considered appropriate because low-interest loan was a form of subsidy. Even if loans were to be extended to the operators, they would still need to be asked to repay the new loan and the outstanding loan in respect of their existing machines at the same time. He emphasized that the trade did not have objections to the proposed scheme and was willing to replace the machines once they were able to do so.

31. In reply to a Member's enquiry, PEPO/EPD said that the cost of modification of substandard machines depended on the age and type of the machines. It would be impractical to upgrade a vented machine to meet the required standard. Upgrading a non-vented substandard machine would cost $50,000. Compared with the cost of a new machine, which ranged from $200,000 to $400,000, most operators would prefer buying new machines before the expiry of the grace period.

32. A Member was concerned about the level of PCE the public would be exposed to during the grace period. PEPO/EPD said that based on the records of air quality monitoring stations, the annual ambient PCE level in 1999 was 2.34μg/m3 whilst the desirable level and the actionable level as recommended by California Air Research Board were 0.17μg/m3 and 17μg/m3 respectively. PEPO/EPD added that the ambient level was not health threatening but should be brought down to as low as reasonably practicable. That Member said the fact that the ambient level was more than ten times of the desirable level could hardly justify a grace period of five years.

33. A Member asked whether there was a different PEC emission standard for workers engaged in the dry-cleaning business. PEPO/EPD said that the Labour Department had issued the Occupational Exposure Limit for PCE which specified that the time weighted average of exposure limit in eight hours was 25 ppm (170,000μg/m3) and the short-term exposure limit was 100ppm (685,000μg/m3). He said that indoor PCE concentration should be far below the limits.

34. A Member asked if the low indoor level was attributed to the fact that PCE emissions was vented outside the premises. PEPO/EPD said that if the vented emissions caused nuisance to the neighbors, the Department could serve an abatement notice under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance to require the laundry operator to reduce the emissions or re-direct the outlet.

35. In reply to a Member's question, PAS(C)/EFB said that PCE was not generally used in domestic dry-cleaning machines.

36. A Member noted that countries like the USA had only allowed non-vented machines since 1997. It seemed that Hong Kong was lagging behind in controlling PCE emissions from dry-cleaning machines. PEPO/EPD replied that the USA was not phasing out substandard non-vented machines whereas Hong Kong would phase out all vented machines as well as non-vented machines in seven years' time. Hong Kong's proposal was reasonably good when compared with other countries in the long run.

 
 
37. The Chairman concluded that Members supported the proposed regulation in principle but would like the Government to consider offering technical and/or financial assistance to dry-cleaning operators so as to expedite the replacement process and shorten the grace period. Finally, he pointed out that the proposed regulation did not seem to have covered foreign sellers or lessors of dry-cleaning machines. He hoped the Administration would look into that. EFB & EPD


Agenda Item 5 : Management of Sand Dredging, Fill Resources and Disposal of Mud/Excavated Materials (ACE Paper 35/2000)

38. At the request of the Chairman, DEP reported the background and the latest position of the mud dredging and dumping operation of the Container Terminal 9 (CT9) project. He said that mud dumping within and outside Hong Kong waters was governed by the Dumping At Sea Ordinance. When the dumping occurred outside Hong Kong waters, for instance in Mainland waters, it had to be done in line with the spirit of the International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (often referred to as the London Convention). Under this Convention, trans-boundary movement of mud for marine disposal was permitted provided that the relevant receiving authority had indicated its prior acceptance of the mud for disposal. Members of the Convention had a responsibility to protect marine environment and thus it was assumed that the relevant authorities in each jurisdiction would accept dumping activities only if these were done in an environmental friendly manner. In the case of CT9, EPD had issued a permit to the contractor after the latter had obtained from the Mainland's State Oceanic Administration a permit to dump contaminated mud in the Mainland waters. In the light of strong public interest in this case, EPD had sought legal advice from the Department of Justice concerning the interaction of the provisions of the London Convention and Hong Kong's legislation. The legal advice indicated that EPD was not obliged to issue a permit to a contractor for disposing of the mud simply because the contractor had obtained a permit from the receiving authority. EPD was entitled to seek proof from the contractor that the dumping operation would not endanger the marine environment even though it was to take place outside Hong Kong waters. In the light of the legal advice, EPD had sought proof from the CT-9 contractor and would cancel the contractor's current permit if he failed to provide information to EPD's satisfaction. In any event, the CT9 contractor had a permit to dispose contaminated mud at special pits for contaminated mud at East Sha Chau. EPD expected a reply from the contractor by 23 September at the latest.

39. In response to a Member's enquiry, DEP said that the capacity of the contaminated mud disposal pit at East Sha Chau was more than adequate to accommodate the mud from both CT9 and the Penny's Bay reclamation projects.

40. The Chairman thanked DEP for the report on the CT9 project. He then welcomed AD(WW)/EPD, CGE(FM)/CED, CE(PW)/CED, SGE(FR)/CED, and E(PF)/CED to the meeting. CGE(FM)/CED and CE(PW)/CED briefed Members on ACE Paper 35/2000.

 
 
41. The Chairman said that in vetting EIA reports, Members noticed inconsistent information on sand fill requirements and surplus spoils between different projects. He suggested that regular reports on a half-yearly basis on the schedules of sand dredging and mud disposal for local works projects be made available to the Council. CGE(FM)/CED undertook to provide regular reports at six-month intervals.
 
Marine Fill Committee (MFC)
42. Noting that an EIA was required for local projects which involved mud dredging and disposal in Hong Kong waters, a Member asked whether there were provisions under the EIA Ordinance to require the proponents to undertake an EIA study for mud disposal ground in Mainland waters. In response, DEP said that he had been contemplating the possibility of such requirement and was currently seeking legal advice from the Department of Justice. However, he cautioned that if such a consideration was carried to the extreme, it might mean EPD had to make sure that all materials used in projects in Hong Kong would not cause unacceptable environmental impact in the receiving sites even though such sites were extremely remote from Hong Kong before he could approve an EIA report. This would be a very demanding, if not impossible, task for his Department.
 
 
43. A Member appreciated the difficulty involved but he felt that Hong Kong had a moral obligation to ensure that projects were carried out in an environmentally acceptable way. Another Member agreed with that Member and suggested that for projects which had environmental impacts on the Mainland, EPD should endorse the EIA reports only if it had evidence showing that such environmental impacts were acceptable. DEP said that this was exactly the spirit of the London Convention but environmental standards did vary from one place to another. That Member suggested and the Chairman supported that the issue should be brought to the attention of the Guangdong-Hong Kong Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection.
 
EFB
44. A Member asked whether the Administration was looking for new dumping pits for disposal of contaminated mud and if so, what the locations would be. CGE(FM)/CED said that if CT9 used it, the disposal pit at East Sha Chau could last for about another five years. However, a new classification system for dredged material involving biological testing would become mandatory in 2002. The new system would likely reduce the amount of contaminated mud which had to be dumped at the East Sha Chau pit, thereby extending the life span of the pit at East Sha Chau. As regards the search of other disposal sites, CGE(FM)/CED said that they recently completed a consultancy study, the Administration was still examining the outcome of the study, and would consult ACE when conclusions had been reached.
 
 
45. The Chairman hoped that the six-monthly report would also keep Members updated on the progress of the site search. CGE(FM)/CED said he would inform Members as and when appropriate.
 
MFC
46. In response to a Member's enquiry, CGE(FM)/CED said that at present, the cost of mud disposal at East Sha Chau by private projects was $55.4/m3. . Disposal by contractors working on Government projects was not charged. Noting that it was cheaper to dispose of mud in the Mainland than in Hong Kong, that Member asked whether the Council should be concerned with the marine resource management planning process to restrict dumping activities in the Mainland to strengthen protection of marine environment. While noting that Member's concern, DEP said that it was equally important to prolong the life of local dumping sites which might run out in the near future. He believed that we should encourage all marine dumping to be done in an environmentally acceptable manner rather than restricting dumping activities in the Mainland waters.

47. A Member asked whether Hong Kong would be criticized under the London Convention for allowing dumping of mud in other places with more lenient environmental standards. In reply, DEP said it would not be the case because Members of the Convention had an obligation to protect their own marine environment before issuing a permit. If the relevant authority in a jurisdiction had issued a permit, the environmental impacts concerned were deemed to be acceptable and authorities of other jurisdictions were meant to respect that. Indeed, he intended to go beyond the normal international practice by asking in each and every case the proof that the environmental impact of mud dumping in the Mainland waters would be acceptable (para. 38 above).

48. A Member asked whether the Government was still actively considering a policy of using only drained reclamation which did not require dredging of contaminated mud. In reply, GCE(FM)/CED said that the policy remained unchanged and the Department had been promoting it. Nonetheless, the policy was not easy to implement especially when the time schedules of specific projects were tight and could not afford to wait for the settlement process to be completed. Another Member said experience had shown that projects had to give up the draining method because many projects had a very tight timetable. He urged the Administration to consider more carefully before fast tracking a project otherwise proponents would not be using the resources in an efficient way.

49. A Member commented that the "Fill Bank" was a good idea to make better use of fill resources but it would be difficult to find 60 hectares of land for the bank without other environmental concerns. She suggested setting up a bank at vacant godowns in the New Territories. CE(PW)/CED said that "Fill Bank" was only at a conceptual stage and it was anticipated that projects which required small amount of fill would be required to collect the fill from the Fill Bank. He added that most godowns were located on private lands and resuming them for the purpose of constructing a Fill Bank would have legal implications. Nonetheless, PFC was exploring with the Lands Department the possibility of allocating Tseung Kwan O Area 137, currently zoned for deep water industry uses, for fill purposes on a short-term basis.

50. A Member wondered if the "Ash Lagoon" at Castle Peak could be used as a Fill Bank and asked what its size would be. In reply, DEP said that the site was under active consideration for other purposes some of which were related to waste management.
 
Agenda Item 6 : Any Other Business

Tentative Schedule of Work of ACE

52. The Chairman asked the Secretariat to invite the Airport Authority to the ACE meeting before the end of the year to report on the progress of the site search for permanent aviation fuel receiving facilities for the airport. Also, he would like to know the latest position of the decontamination at the Kai Tak apron.




Secretariat

53. In connection with the aviation fuel receiving facilities, a Member said he noted a proposal from a paper of the Country and Marine Parks Board that the channels in Sha Chau would be dredged for repair and maintenance and asked for clarification. In reply, Ag.DD/AFCD said that the proposed dredging in Sha Chau was for maintenance purpose due to sedimentation brought down by the Pearl River and it would last 10 days.

54. A Member expressed concern about the safety and environmental considerations of the use of rapeseed oil by vehicles and asked for the Government's position. In reply, DEP said that the Customs & Excise Department had collected samples of rapeseed oil for content analysis. He suspected the fuel was just illicit diesel mixed with small quantity of rapeseed oil to avoid tax. He said that biodiesel used in other countries usually only contained up to 10% bio-ingredients since some vehicle manufacturers believed a higher percentage would cause damage to engines. EPD would press to put a control regime in place if it transpired that the rapeseed oil on sale would cause damage to the environment. The analysis results were expected to be ready in the next few days and though the report was not produced by EPD, he could see no reason why the report could not be made public.

Agenda Item 6 : Date of Next ACE Meeting

55. The next meeting was scheduled for 30 October 2000 (Monday).

ACE Secretariat
September 2000


 

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