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25 Jul 06
Polluted Hong Kong mulls laws on idling engines
HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong motorists may face fines for leaving their engines idling under legislation being considered to help reduce the city's worsening pollution problem, the government said.
The announcement came as air quality monitors recorded "very high" pollution over the city for the second day in a row, a classfification that carries with it an automatic health warning to sufferers of respiratory and heart problems.
Environment Secretary Sarah Liao said officials would make a decision on introducing legislation after they had studied the effectiveness of a voluntary appeal urging drivers to turn off their engines while stationary.
"We are investigating the effect of stopping idling car engines," Liao told reporters. "Of course we need to go through a very extensive consultation process before we embark on anything."
Air quality has deteriorated in Hong Kong so much in the past decade that smog reduced visibility to less than a kilometer (half a mile) on more than 50 days last year, a record in this southern Chinese territory.
The government claims the problem is mostly due to the industrialisation of southern China's neighbouring Pearl River Delta region. Green groups blame Hong Kong's coal-burning power stations and diesel-powered buses.
Environmentalist group Greenpeace said it would welcome legislation to curb exhaust emissions but said the government could do more. "Our studies show car emissions are not the largest contributor to air pollution -- that distinction goes to the power generation coompanies," said the organsiation's Hong Kong campaigns manager MK Tam. "While legislation against motorists is good, there is a far greater need to apply it to the power companies," Tam said.
Surveys say pollution is also hitting Hong Kong financially. Companies are finding it hard to attract executives from overseas because of the haze, and the travel industry says tourists are increasingly suffering health problems.
Tour operators say visitors are also complaining as the city's famous harbour, its premier tourist attraction, is rendered invisible by the thick blanket of pollutants.
Tuesday was such a day, with the high-rise skyline shrouded in a grey haze and impossible to see from the Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district less than a kilometre away across the harbour.
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