Clean air, not 'hot air'
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Clean air, not 'hot air'

Early this week, the Administrative Court in Chiang Mai province issued a ruling that once again confirms the outgoing government has failed to tackle the problem of toxic air pollution, despite having previously prioritised the fight against PM2.5 dust particles and making this a national agenda.

The court ruling poses a new challenge for incoming government -- or, to be precise, the next environment minister, who will be expected to do a better job of making the air safer to breathe.

On Monday, the court judged that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the National Environmental Board (NEB) had neglected their duties in tackling ultra-fine dust or PM2.5 pollutants.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in April by 1,700 residents in the province, which made headlines this year for having the world's worst air pollution. The suit is one of many legal petitions filed by public and civic groups in Chiang Mai in recent years as the problem has worsened significantly over the past decade.

The complaints and demands included in these legal petitions explain more about how remiss our national and local governments have been. One demanded that the Pollution Control Department (PCD) announce Chiang Mai city as a "pollution control zone" -- a status that would lead to more stringent anti-pollution plans.

Another demanded the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) audit publicly listed companies to reveal their emissions during production and from the rest of the supply chain. One of the major sources of PM2.5 is the opening burning that occurs on large farms growing maize and sugar cane, as well as from industrial factories.

That said, the next government must be prepared to work harder and more creatively instead of following in the footsteps of the outgoing administration and their default modus operandi for tackling PM2.5 -- spraying water, making artificial rain, or simply asking people to stay indoors and closing schools.

But above all, they must be bolder in issuing policies -- and taking action -- regardless of whether these upset the bureaucracy and the private sector.

For instance, the next environment minister needs should indeed declare Chiang Mai and other provinces in the North that are afflicted with heavy air pollution as control zones.

The Administrative Court actually ordered the government to make such an announcement in 2021, but the related government body subsequently lodged an appeal to thwart the effort.

The next government should not be afraid to take bold steps, and do what the Prayut government has failed to do, by fast-tracking two crucial environmental laws -- the Clean Air bill and the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) bill -- to improve air-quality management.

The Clean Air Act, for example, would impose a financial penalty on polluters while the PRTR would force the industrial and farming sectors to reveal the emissions from their supply chains and clarify their harvesting processes.

The May 14 election reflected Thai society's desire for a more democratic government. Voters need the country's politicians and legislators to solve health and environmental problems quickly. The new democratic government must prove it is different from the outgoing Prayut administration, which promised cleaner air. In retrospect, this proved to be just a load of hot air.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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