Hoping for a breath of fresh air

Hoping for a breath of fresh air

Activists want next government to push their pollution-buster bill

No place to breathe: Haze pollution blankets inner Bangkok. This photo was taken from the 29th floor of a building on Sukhumvit Road.
No place to breathe: Haze pollution blankets inner Bangkok. This photo was taken from the 29th floor of a building on Sukhumvit Road.

Environmental activists and experts are urging the next government to support the Clean Air Bill before parliament to address PM2.5 problems and reduce health impacts from air pollution.

The current administration failed to pass the bill before the House session ended on Feb 28.

Civil society groups led by the Thailand Clean Air Network have been pushing the Bill to Regulate the Integrated Management of Clean Air for Health (Clean Air Bill) to protect people's right to clean air since 2020.

Four other versions of the bill, proposed by other parties, were submitted to parliament, but none have passed. The Bangkok Post talked to environmentalists to seek their opinions on the bill.

A troubled history

Prof Siwatt Pongpiachan, director of the Nida Center for Research & Development of Disaster Prevention & Management, called on parties to emphasise the Clean Air Bill during their election campaigns.

Despite the government preparing an action plan and imposing strict measures to address hazardous smog, Thailand is still hit by dangerous levels of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) every year during the smog season, he said.

"Although the Pollution Control Department (PCD) is the main agency responsible for overseeing air pollution issues, the PCD only has the power to monitor and report PM2.5 and other air pollutants. It lacks the authority to penalise polluters or duplicate the responsibilities of other agencies," Prof Siwatt said.

"As many agencies involving five ministries -- Natural Resources and Environment, Interior, Industry, Transport, and Energy -- have overlapping responsibilities over the control and prevention of seasonal smog, there is no way for the PCD to enforce collective action across all agencies to effectively curb air pollution," he added.

This is why air pollution mitigation measures are inefficient to control smog and protect people's health.

This problem would be tackled under the bill, as it would establish legislative frameworks to allow collaboration between state agencies, the business sector, and civil society, he said.

"If the law passes, we will have a new environmental protection agency that answers directly to a joint committee chaired by the Prime Minister and will have equal representation from state agencies and civil society. So, it will have full authority to enforce the clean air law in a more integrated manner, similarly to environmental protection agencies in developed countries," he said.

The bill also includes incentives encouraging those in agriculture, transport and industry to reduce pollution emissions, such as providing technological and financial aid to farmers to urge them not to burn farmland after harvesting season.

"Exposure to PM2.5 smog can cause serious health threats and premature deaths. This law will also assure the right to clean air as a fundamental right. People can sue officers for negligence if they fail to tackle air pollution," he said.

Resistance to the bill

However, many details of this bill overlap with the laws of other ministries and challenge the authority of some state agencies. On top of that, the interests of businesses are also affected by the change. Prof Siwatt said this is why the Clean Air Bill has been pushed back several times and is still struggling to pass parliament.

"As it is now too late for PM Prayut's administration to pass the Clean Air Bill, we have to place our hope with the new government to finally pass this important law," he said.

Three versions of the Clean Air Bill proposed by the Bhumjaithai Party, Move Forward Party, and a group of 12,000 people in a signature campaign were dropped by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha as they were declared as finance-related legislation. The remaining two bills in parliament, both yet to pass deliberation, are from the Palang Pracharath Party and the Thailand Clean Air Network.

Alliya Moun-ob, Air Pollution Campaigner at Greenpeace Thailand, said she is worried the Thailand Clean Air Network's bill, which has been endorsed by more than 50,000 people, will be watered down or discarded.

"The bill will be a big step forward in ensuring people can breathe clean air, as it holds the key to administrative reform, allowing us to address the problem at its root," Ms Alliya said.

The bill imposes stricter environmental protection standards, which has made it unpopular among some influential figures.

"The PM's decision to drop the three earlier bills shows the government can easily brush away any bill it opposes without any explanation by claiming the measure could affect the status of the treasury," she said.

Palang Pracharath Party's bill imposes weaker regulations. Ms Alliya urged the public to closely monitor what happens next to ensure they get the best outcome.

Do you like the content of this article?