MAC: Mines and Communities

China Environment Official Targets "Special Interests"

Published by MAC on 2007-01-22

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.


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