Public key to cleaner air

Public key to cleaner air

The decision by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to ditch two clean air bills this week came at an ill-opportune time. In the northern region, firefighters are still battling against forest fires which have been blamed for toxic smog and a surge in local health complaints.

Chiang Mai, the country's top tourist destination, was recently named the province with the worst air pollution. The war against bush fires can appear endless at this time of the year, even though nature ultimately sees to it that the skies clear up and the rain washes away the poisonous evidence during another winter of collective amnesia about the urgency of this ever-worsening environmental time bomb.

It's the same in Bangkok. Everyone knows if they close their eyes and cover their ears long enough, the complaints about toxic smog will dry up as seasonal change masks underlying structural flaws in our society that are causing this blight on fresh air.

Unfortunately, the government will likely pay lip service to solving the problem at its roots and thumb through its well-worn playbook of excuses and temporary measures -- school closures, public health warnings and spraying water into the sky (has there ever been a more symbolic image of the ineffectiveness of current policy than this?) as it too waits for the season to pass.

These sticking plasters cover the wounds but do nothing to apprehend the culprits or take away their weapons of environmental destruction.

What the country needs is the kind of clean air legislation that many countries already have and use it to manage air pollution at a structural level.

Environmentalists held high hopes for the three new bills drafted last year when pollution was at its peak. The first was drafted by the Chamber of Commerce, the second sponsored by the Bhumjaithai Party and the third, a so-called "Clear Air Regulatory Bill" brought forth by the Thailand Clean Air Network, a network of civic groups and law professors.

The three documents differ in specifics but have the same broad aim of attempting to streamline the various layers of bureaucracy currently hindering efforts to put a leash on Thailand's environmental problems by creating a new agency, advocating a punitive "polluter-pay" framework and setting up a fund to award damages to those affected by the recklessness of others.

Gen Prayut has insisted he attaches importance to clean air, but showed little hesitation in dropping the first and second bills on a technicality. He said they were fiscal in nature due to their call for a new agency to be established.

The third bill, however, remains alive with supporters refusing to throw in the towel as they begin a fresh round of signature collections and educational events.

There has also been a small but crucial victory up in the North.

The Chiang Mai Administrative Court yesterday ordered the National Environment Board to designate Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun as pollution control zones within 30 days. The verdict was in response to a petition lodged by residents accusing the authority of dereliction of duty over spiralling health problems they allege are caused by the the pea-soup smog that blankets the city each year.

Once a pollution control zone, the relevant authorities will be obliged to come up with a plan and a budget.

It's a small step, but an important one that shows how public participation can overcome bureaucratic inertia. It's also hopefully a sign that, with enough public support, the Clear Air Regulatory Bill might just squeeze through.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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