GREAT expectations may just be the phrase to describe the hope of many Malaysians for the proposed Environmental Protection Bill. What with all the disasters such as landslides that have been happening in Penang, and, elsewhere, too. Are we being too hopeful? Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has certainly raised our expectations. He told the New Sunday Times that the new law would have more bite than it did under the Environmental Quality Act 1974. Take the case of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) guidelines, which were at the centre of the Penang landslide controversy. Under the new regime, the Department of Environment’s (DoE) EIA guidelines will moult from being recommendatory to mandatory. A giant leap, one must admit. But here is the catch. Malaysia’s Federal Constitution gives the states substantial powers over land use and natural resources management. The federal-state relationship is a complicated relationship, even without adding the complex environmental regime to the picture. It can, at times, confound and confuse. We saw this in full play in the Tanjung Bungah tragedy, leaving many laymen wondering about the clout of DoE. Many asked: can Penang overrule DoE’s advice? It certainly can under the Federal Constitution. So, how is this new bill going to circumvent this? We do not want to put the cart before the horse, but this may not happen unless the states relinquish control to the federal authorities. Only states which love the environment and the future generation will do this. This is a moral bite, at best.