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 user 2005-02-10 at 9:55:00 am Views: 94
  • #10162

    enforcing green laws, suddenly

    Beijing has targeted 22 major energy projects to assess their
    environmental impact.

    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
    environmental review.

    In the first instance of its kind, top Chinese leaders appear to be throwing
    their clout behind laws requiring environmental-impact statements for large
    energy-related projects.

    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
    protect nature.

    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
    in Asia.

    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
    impact statements.

    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