*NEWS*CHINA ENFORCING GREEN LAWS,SUDDENLY
*NEWS*CHINA ENFORCING GREEN LAWS,SUDDENLY
2005-02-10 at 9:54:00 am #10160
enforcing green laws, suddenly
Beijing has targeted 22 major energy projects to assess their
BEIJING – As many as 22 major dams and
power stations under construction in China, including a key power facility at
the controversial Three Gorges Dam, have slowed or stopped work pending an
In the first instance of its kind, top Chinese leaders appear to be throwing
their clout behind laws requiring environmental-impact statements for large
Even if the projects, which total more than $14 billion and span 13
provinces, soon go back online, Beijing’s public support of the State
Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), long considered a mere showpiece, seems
an official nod to growing numbers of Chinese who support tougher policies to
Energy-hungry China has embarked in recent years on a breakneck program of
investment in power plants, adding to an already overheating economy. By
enforcing policies requiring companies to account for environmental impact, the
power sector may cool down a bit – one reason to allow SEPA to fine construction
companies and demand they follow the law, according to an unusually frank South
Metropolitan Daily editorial.
In the past decade, China’s roaring double-digit growth, industrial output,
and booming new-car sales have caused some of the worst air and water pollution
So far, watchdogs like SEPA, despite being an arm of government, have not
been given latitude to enforce any clean air and water laws.
Yet on Jan. 18, in a bit of savvy bureaucratic maneuvering, SEPA suddenly
charged 30 construction projects with illegality, since they failed to submit
Since then, most of the dams and hydroelectric projects have reportedly
suspended work, according to the English-language China Daily.
The construction firm building the Three Gorges Dam project, after several
days of balking, bent to an edict from the State Council. It stopped work on a
4,500-megawatt underground power facility, and a $5 billion dam called Xiluodu
on the Yangtze River.
Analysts attribute a new attitude about the environment to deepening
relations between figures like Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and young stars at
SEPA, like its deputy director Pan Yue.
“I think this is a significant moment; it signifies a new consciousness about
the environment,” says Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations in
New York. “Pan Yue is spearheading that move among elites, and SEPA clearly has
the ear of [Premier] Wen Jiabao.”
The environment is a popular grass-roots issue in China, one of the few
issues the central government allows some public discussion about. Every top
college in China has an active student environmental group. The government of
President Hu Jintao, moreover, which has a “people first” platform, knows the
environment has a special hold on the imagination of a broad range of Chinese –
partly because many of the children of high-ranking are involved in
nongovernmental environmental lobby groups.
Few analysts say Beijing is about to allow large-scale public works projects,
a source of employment and energy, to be vetoed by a small agency.
Yet analysts agree the high profile push by SEPA is a signal – to
reform-minded elites, a generation of younger educated Chinese, and policymakers
in other countries where the environment gets top billing – that the environment
will weigh more heavily in planning and decisionmaking.
“There are about 70 environmental groups doing things at the local level,”
says Nick Young of China Development Brief In Beijing, which follows voluntary
groups in China. “These aren’t just clubs, but are active – and effective. The
environment is a sector where there are real are imaginative possibilities in
Moreover, the environmental lobby in China has been given space to air its
views in the state-run media, and in smaller private newspapers – questioning
whether enough public resources are being devoted to stopping pollution and
protecting wildlife, for example.
The current bold move by SEPA took place at a time when scholars, writers,
and “public intellectuals” have been further discouraged to express themselves
freely. The SEPA initiative was given great official state media attention on
Jan. 18, the day after former premier and Tiananmen legend Zhao Ziyang died
after living under house arrest for 15 years. For two weeks after Zhao’s death,
authorities and police effectively shut down discussion about Zhao, even on the
“I think a lot of the clout that we’ve seen with SEPA and with the growing
environmental movement in China is due to the media here,” Mr. Young says.
“The public is surprised and has praised this bold move,” editorializes
Metropolitan News. “Not only are ordinary people not satisfied, but leaders are
not satisfied [with the lack of reform in anti-pollution measures].”
Sources in Beijing say many leaders are genuinely worried about scientific
studies and new analyses showing long-term harm from continuing the pace of
unregulated toxic emissions and waste. Not long ago, Beijing announced that high
standards for auto emissions.
In testimony before the US Congress in September, Ms. Economy targeted water
as the most pressing issue: “More than three-quarters of the water flowing
through China’s urban areas is considered unsuitable for drinking or fishing,”
she stated. “Much of China’s pollution stems from industrial waste water from
paper and pulp mills, printing and dyeing factories, chemical plants and other
small, unregulated township and village enterprises.”
In the post-Jan. 18 blast of coverage in Chinese media about illegal power
plants, much of the style and content of the rhetoric appears similar to that
used to condemn official corruption. China Youth Daily, for example, a state-run
newspaper, did stories pointing to the most “embarrassing” projects that were
The paper cited a chromium factory in Huanzhong County in Northwest Qinghai
Province that was dumping horrific levels of toxins into nearby rivers. The
factory was ordered to close last May. But new building facilities and
operations quickly started up again in July.
“The person who approved the July project was the director of the local
environmental protection bureau,” the paper reported.
In December, the State Council of China restated the laws governing impact
statements, and officials from SEPA conducted a set of swift studies in the
field – then made up the list.
SEPA officials stated that those projects out of compliance, including a $5
billion hydro-power station in Sichuan Province, will pay fines of up to