Third Runway EIA Approval: Did ACE Members Ignore the Rule of Law?
LegCo member to propose motion to regret ACE’s decision
(25 September 2014, Hong Kong) Last week, the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) decided to endorse the Third Runway project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, with conditions attached. However, the reasons given by ACE for the decision were ambiguous, with the members deliberately evading legal requirements. Concerned green groups believe that the ACE’s decision lacks legal foundation and has thus violated the EIA Ordinance.
The green groups strongly urge the Director of Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to reject the ACE’s decision and clarify the related legal points, in order to safeguard the EIA system and to avoid setting a very dangerous precedent. In addition, Dr Hon Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, LegCo member for the Civic Party, has proposed a motion with the Panel on Environmental Affairs for 29 September to express regret regarding the ACE’s decision. This is the first time such a motion has been proposed.
The committee’s decision lacked adequate justification
Just before the government’s announcement that it would be designating the Southwest Lantau Marine Park and Soko Islands Marine Park, ACE members repeatedly expressed concerns about the insufficient mitigation measures proposed during the construction stage of the third runway project. They also stated that they were inclined to not endorse the EIA report. However, upon the government’s announcement, the committee’s opinion changed dramatically, giving positive support to the EIA. The committee stated that they thought the new marine parks and a new “Marine Ecology and Fisheries Enhancement Plan” proposed by Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) would improve the environment enough to warrant giving the project’s EIA a green light.
The green groups believe that this explanation is extremely far-fetched. AAHK’s “enhancement plan” did not involve any public consultation – this bypasses usual procedures and does not meet standard EIA requirements. Moreover, the plan was not discussed thoroughly and even then, some committee members expressed doubts about its effectiveness. Given this situation, why did the committee choose to endorse the EIA? Furthermore, AAHK themselves stated that this “enhancement plan” was not a mitigation measure for the third runway. The ACE could not reach common ground about whether this plan would be legally binding; this led to the plan being strongly questioned by some of the ACE members. AAHK did not respond to these questions.
The government repeatedly insisted that the designation of these marine parks plan was not related to the third runway project and thus was not part of the EIA report; yet the committee mentioned that this announcement formed part of their consideration of the report. What is the legal basis for this? Will the EIA report’s passage ensure the realization of these marine parks?
An absolute majority of the committee, aside from two members, ignored the above mentioned legal questions. Instead, they fulfilled the desires of the government and AAHK and rushed to pass the report – this is a breach of ACE’s duty and a severe distortion of the EIA system.
We urge the EPD to immediately and comprehensively clarify the legal points behind the ACE’s decision before deciding whether to issue the Environmental Permit for this project. The EPD must also explain and, if necessary, rework the legal consultation for EIA reports to ensure that the system is executed effectively and not flawed.
Signatories (Alphabetical order)
Friends of the Earth (HK)
Save Lantau Alliance
The Conservancy Association
The Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society
FoE(HK) Head of Communications Miss Ingrid Tang 31841512 / 54364822
FoE(HK) Assistant Environment Affairs Manager Miss Melonie Chau 31841509 / 96519346