【明報專訊】YESTERDAY the Court of Appeal (CA) allowed the Director of Environmental Protection's (the Director's) appeal about the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HKZM Bridge) project. Having won, the government immediately said works would resume as soon as possible and it would work doubly hard to make up for lost time. It is right for it to do so.
The CA has ruled that it is not necessary to carry out a baseline study on the grounds that it is not required by legislation, the technical memorandum or the study brief. It has faith in the Director's professional decision. Furthermore, it is satisfied that, when the Director issued the environment permit, she required that measures be taken to minimise pollution. Therefore, the ruling is in keeping with the laws in force both in point of fact and in point of law. The CA's judgement is silent as to whether baseline studies ought to be carried out. However, the judge who heard the judicial review case in the Court of First Instance made an enlightening observation about baseline studies.
At present, the Director may issue an environment permit in respect of a project if environmental pollution will not exceed the permissible limits when it is completed. The judge pointed out in his judgement that the attitude in which the Director decided whether to issue an environment permit resembled that of a person who would pour dirty water into a bucket as long as it was not full. The purpose of doing a baseline study in respect of a project is to determine what additional environmental pollution it may cause.
Baseline studies are rigorous and scientific. To require them to be carried out is to require environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports to contain more data and information so that the public and those charged with approving projects will have better knowledge and information. The purpose of doing so is to strike a proper balance between development and conservation. We therefore take the view that the government should require that EIA reports include stand-alone baseline studies.
The CA has ruled in the HKZM Bridge case it is unnecessary for EIA reports to include baseline studies. However, it remains to be determined how to ensure adequate measures will be taken to minimise the pollution caused by a project if no baseline study is carried out in respect of it. There are still arguable points of law. Chu Yee-wah, the applicant, may not take the case to the Court of Final Appeal, but none can say for certain no other project will be challenged in court. To avoid such legal encumbrances, the government should adopt reforms.
(1) It may declare that EIA reports in respect of major projects will include baseline studies so that they will contain accurate and valuable data.
(2) It may simply have the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance amended to require EIA reports to include baseline studies. It should lay down concrete criteria to let the public know it is genuinely concerned about infrastructure projects' impact on the environment.
In our view, the government should adopt what is scientific and advanced. It will be a good thing if Chief Executive Donald Tsang declares in his last policy address baseline studies will become mandatory.