Cautious welcome to pollution drive
Shi Jiangtao and Priscilla Jiao in Beijing
Offending power firm promises to mend its ways
Beijing's latest crackdown on industrial pollution, targeting top power producers and development-minded local governments, has received a cautious welcome from environmental experts and even the affected companies.
Although the campaign, which named and shamed dozens of polluters, was well-intended and came amid worsening environmental degradation, it remained to be seen whether the mainland's top environmental watchdog could win its lonely crusade against powerful government agencies and interest groups, they said.
The State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) on Wednesday took on the country's top power producers - Huaneng, Datang, Huadian and Guodian - and four local governments, accusing them of falling short of environmental standards. Sepa also suspended approvals for all of their new projects.
Zeng Xiaodong, vice-president of the Sepa-backed All-China Environmental Federation, the country's biggest environmental non-governmental organisation, said it was unlikely there would be a positive result in the war on pollution without sufficient punishment for responsible officials.
'Sepa's move shows that no companies, no matter how big they are, can be exempt from the central government's policy of cutting energy consumption and controlling pollution,' said Mr Zeng, a former Sepa vice-minister.
'But the crux of the anti-pollution campaign is whether government officials at all levels and company leaders who fail to implement environmental policies can be seriously punished.'
He said similar crusades by the watchdog in the past three years had been effectively hindered by rampant local protectionism, which blindly supported high-pollution sectors such as chemicals, power generation and steel.
'The only effective way to tackle the problem is to dismiss those defiant cadres from office, and frankly that's the only thing they are afraid of,' Mr Zeng said. 'I don't see a good chance of winning the campaign without any serious punishment of local officials.'
Huaneng said it would act immediately to minimise the impact of the penalities. 'The company has paid attention to the ... decision and we have begun our own investigation,' a spokesman said.