MAC: Mines and Communities

China Update

Published by MAC on 2007-01-29

China Update

29th January 2007

"Gentle measures don't work" declared Pan Yue, China's vice minister of the state's environmental protection administration (SEPA). He is referring to the regime's failure to clean up the country's grave pollution in the face of "special interests".

A few days later, as if to confirm Yue's scepticism, China's top oil and gas producer was fined a mere US$128,000 for a toxic spill last November which killed eight people and poisoned drinking water for three million more.

In mid-January SEPA discovered that a state-owned coking coal factory was still emitting an unacceptably high level of toxics, despite an order to adopt cleaner technology' SEPA has reportedly shut the company down.

China Environment Official Targets "Special Interests"

PlanetArk CHINA

22nd January 2007

BEIJING - Officials beholden to polluting industries are subverting efforts to clean up China's foul air and water, a top Chinese environmental official has said, flagging a fresh battle to enforce environmental rules.

Pan Yue, outspoken vice minister at the State Environmental Protection Administration, told the Southern Weekend newspaper that his bureau's efforts to halt polluters were running up against "special interests" protected by officials eager to promote strong growth.

"The main reason behind the continued deterioration of the environment is the merging of special interests and a mistaken view of what counts as political achievement," he told the weekly paper, which appeared late on Thursday.

"The crazy expansion of high-polluting, high-energy industries has spawned this merging of special interests," he said. "Protected by local governments, some businesses treat the natural resources that belong to all people as their own private property."

Pan said his administration -- which ranks low in China's bureaucratic pecking order -- was seeking to strengthen controls on industrial emissions. Last year, the volume of "instructions" on environmental problems sent down by the ruling Communist Party's leadership grew by over a half compared with the year before, he said.

But in 2006, emissions of major pollutants still grew and there was an "environmental incident" on average every two days, Pan added.

In 2007, Pan said, his agency and other government departments would intensify a campaign to vet new projects to ensure they meet pollution standards.

"It's dawned on us that gentle measures don't work against this surge of high-energy consuming, high-polluting industrial expansion," he said.

The environmental agency, together with the land ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission -- a powerful economic policy-maker -- would halt projects and carry out inspections, Pan said.

He said that the new inspection regime would be a "trial" that might not succeed. And the administration's efforts so far suggest that powerful Chinese businesses will not find it difficult to clear this new hurdle.

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Administration said that four of China's largest power companies censured only last week for violating pollution rules had shut down the offending plants and now took environmental protection very seriously.


Petrochina Unit Fined for 2005 Toxic River Slick

PlanetArk CHINA

29th January 2007

BEIJING - A unit of China's top oil and gas producer, PetroChina, has been fined for a toxic spill into the Songhua river that poisoned drinking water for millions of people, the Xinhua news agency said.

But the 1 million yuan (US$128,700) penalty -- the maximum allowed under Chinese law for environmental violations -- will be small change to a company that earned net profit of 80.6 billion yuan in the first half of last year.

An explosion at the Jilin Petrochemical company in November 2005 killed eight people and poured 100 tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals into the river, which flows across the country's northeastern border into Russia.

China initially covered up news of the disaster, but eventually cut off drinking water for days for about 3 million people in the downstream regional capital of Harbin and launched a massive clean-up operation.

Beijing subsequently pledged more openness and stricter standards, and fired or punished a string of officials including the head of the environmental watchdog, but no one has been prosecuted over the spill.

At PetroChina, 10 executives have received demerits on their personal record, Xinhua said.

China has vowed to clean up its environment, in part because of growing social unrest over pollution in rural areas.

But the State Environmental Protection Administration has limited power and is struggling to change the attitude of officials who have been told for years to focus on promoting economic growth at almost any cost.

Relatively small fines -- and a total cap rather than a daily charge for ongoing violations -- mean many firms find it cheaper to pay penalty charges than install and run cleaner equipment, Xinhua added. (US$1=7.768 Yuan)


Shanxi coke producer shut down for breaking environmental regulations

The State Environmental Protection Administration shut down Shanxi Luliang Coking Factory, a state-owned coke producer, for trying to mislead the administration and causing severe pollution.

The company was blacklisted by SEPA on Jan. 10 and ordered to suspend production before a new environmental control system was launched.

However, after a field investigation three days later, the company was found to still be emitting waste water and coal gas, even though it claimed waste water recycling and a gas purifying facilities had been adopted, SEPA said.

An official surnamed Yin at the production department of Luliang Coking said the company was shut down immediately after the investigation.

"We will try to launch the pollution control system after the Spring Festival, since we can't afford the losses caused by production suspension," he said.

[source: Interfax China, 26 January 2007]

Illegal miners caught in collapse in Gansu

Four people illegally mining a lead and zinc mine were buried 1,800 meters underground on Jan. 4; state media reported yesterday.

Baiyin Nonferrous Metals Changba mining company, the owner of the mine, together with the Gansu provincial government, had teamed up to rescue the victims, who were members of a 30-strong group, but were unsuccessful, according to the China Youth Daily.

Part of the Changba lead-zinc mine, located in Huangzhu, Gansu Province, was shut down after a collapse in 1997 on government orders. It is China's second largest lead-zinc reserve with 3.2 million tons.

The Chinese government has taken measures to curb illegal mining since 2005. But higher raw material prices have led to more illegal mining.

Zhang Haijun, an official at Baiyin Nonferrous Metals, said, "our company has long taken measures to tackle the problem of ore thefts. We have regular patrols and the amount of illegal mining has fallen, compared with

[Interfax China, 25 January 2007]

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