China warns officials against covering up pollution
Reuters,BEIJING - China has warned local environmental protection officials that they will be punished if they allow or cover up damage to the environment in favor of economic growth, state media said on Tuesday.
China has been struck by a steady string of environmental crises, including a river pollution case that left millions in northeast China without drinking water for days, and degradation of the environment has become an issue threatening growth, social stability and public health.
"China's environmental problems will be four or five times as bad 15 years from now if it continues in current energy consumption and pollution trends," Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University, told the China Daily.
A new regulation that took effect on Monday set out penalties for officials who approved projects that had not passed environmental impact assessments, improperly cut or canceled fees for industry waste discharge, held back or falsified reports or tried to cover up accidents, the China Daily reported.
"By cracking down on corruption and environmental destruction, we are correcting the wrong principle of pursuing fast economic growth by sacrificing environmental quality -- which is a principle held by some local officials," Liu Yufu, vice minister of supervision, was quoted as saying.
The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has struggled to get regional officials, under pressure to spur economic growth, to comply with its policies, and the new punishment rules may be no different.
"SEPA is busy handling highly frequent environmental accidents. It is hard for SEPA to spare more manpower and resources into pushing the regulation to every corner of the country," Zhang told the newspaper.
Earlier this month, the watchdog named and shamed 11 companies for heavy pollution from their factories and told them to clean up offending projects or face closure and fines.
The southern boomtown of Guangzhou has followed up on that policy by ordering nine major local factories, including a chemical plant on SEPA's blacklist, to move away from the city center to reduce pollution, the newspaper said.
Water pollution has become a major national concern since a blast at a chemical plant in November poured cancer-causing benzene compounds into northeast China's Songhua River, forcing water supplies to be cut off to millions.
The head of SEPA was forced to resign after the spill, which became an international incident as the river flows into Russia.
But a string of similar accidents have been reported since the Songhua crisis, the latest a release of toxic chemicals into a river in southwest Sichuan province that has disrupted water supplies to 20,000 people since last week.