China's top environmental official has blamed corruption for frustrating environmental protection efforts and worsening the country's already severely polluted air and waterways, state media reported Tuesday.
"Illegal small chemical plants, paper and leather mills are still being set up," Zhou Shengxian, director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. "Many outdated technologies, which should have been replaced, are still in use."
Chinese cities are among the world's smoggiest following two decades of breakneck economic growth. The government says all of China's major rivers are dangerously polluted. Millions of people lack access to clean drinking water.
Zhou said in a report to China's legislature that some local government leaders directly interfere in environmental law enforcement by threatening to remove, demote and retaliate against environmental officials, Xinhua said.
"The failure to abide by the law, lax law enforcement, and allowing lawbreakers to go free are still serious problems in many places," Zhou was quoted as saying. Xinhua did not say when the report was delivered.
Separately on Tuesday, Xinhua paraphrased President Hu Jintao as saying that China needed to focus more attention on energy efficiency and environmental protection.
Hu told the ruling Communist Party's political bureau at a recent meeting to step up supervision to ensure that environmental laws were being enforced and to quicken the pace of environmental work overall, Xinhua said.
Zhou's and Hu's comments come amid public pressure for stronger action against rampant pollution that has undermined China's environment during 25 years of breakneck industrialization.
The government has promised to make cleaning up the environment a priority over the next five years but attempts by the environmental agency to crack down on big polluters have generally failed.
The government said last month that 12 billion tons of industrial waste water were discharged in the first half of this year, an increase of 2.4 percent from the same period last year.
Also in the first six months of this year, the water pollution index rose by 3.7 percent, while sulfur dioxide emissions increased by 4.2 percent, from the same period a year earlier.