Emphasis on public role in environmental protection welcomed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 12:00am

Mainland environmental experts have given a cautious welcome to the country's first regulation aimed at enlisting public support in the approval process for industrial projects.

The regulation, which provided details for the better implementation of the environmental assessment law, was made public yesterday by Pan Yue , deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa).

'It is the first regulatory document on public participation in China's environmental protection and is related to the State Council's decision to 'perfect the social supervision mechanism',' Mr Pan announced on Sepa's website.

Mr Pan said the lack of details in existing green laws on ways to give the public a greater say in the approval process for controversial projects had resulted in a rising number of disputes and protests.

'Public participation in environmental protection represents the level of a nation's sustainable development,' he said.

Mr Pan, who launched a new crackdown this month on 11 polluting factories and 10 other projects, said the authorities should be blamed for failing to give people access to environmental and other information.

According to the regulation, developers of controversial projects are required to make public an adapted version of the green assessment report and choose at least one of five ways to solicit public opinions, including public surveys and hearings.

Mainland experts yesterday said the move was an important step in the right direction, but cautioned against its effectiveness.

Li Dun , from Tsinghua University, said although the regulation was well-intended, it failed to provide legal protection for the public's rightful access to government information.

He noted it would remain difficult to see more public hearings on controversial projects because the authorities' secretive mentality would not be changed easily.

But he supported Sepa officials who defended the regulation by saying it was more important to have the regulation than to delay its release until everyone was happy about it.

Professor Li's views were supported by Xu Kezhu , a green activist from the China University of Political Science and Law.

According to Ms Xu, who was invited by Sepa to voice opinions on the draft regulation in December, most suggestions from environmental groups and experts were not included in the final version.