Greens hail rule giving watchdog more clout
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
A long-anticipated regulation aimed at tackling the mainland's pollution woes at their roots and expanding the power of environmental watchdogs was approved yesterday.
The move was hailed by environmentalists as a breakthrough in reversing problems which have become a main source of dissatisfaction and unrest.
It was the first time the social and economic planning, including the 12th five-year blueprint, would be subject to environmental impact assessment before its implementation, according to a leading drafter of the ordinance.
However, even though it was adopted by the State Council, Xinhua said the regulation was still subject to further revision before it could be made public and implemented.
'That statement has underscored the sensitivity of the regulation, which has met fierce opposition from other central government agencies and local authorities,' said Peking University professor Wang Jin, who wrote the first draft three years ago. The regulation had virtually given the top environmental watchdog the power to oversee environment-related decisions made by most of other State Council departments, he noted.
Mu Guangfeng, who is in charge of green impact assessment at the Ministry of Environment Protection, said the regulation made it possible to deal with pollution at its root.
'We have been expecting its approval for three years, and it is great news for people who care about China's environment,' he said.
Although green assessments were made mandatory under a law adopted in 2003, they have failed to minimise the impact of environmentally damaging decisions due to resistance from interest groups and government agencies. Unlike the existing impact assessment, which deals only with specific projects, the new regulation on strategic assessment would consider the combined impact of a cluster of projects, Professor Wang noted.
Mr Mu also said the regulation was a step in the right direction towards subjecting decisions to environmental considerations.
'It makes strategic impact assessment feasible, which means the environmental capacity of a region or a river becomes a priority of concern in any future economic development plan,' he said.
Both analysts said the regulation would help prevent mistakes such as overdevelopment of hydropower resources in Yunnan and Sichuan and the metal pollution scandals in Hunan and coastal regions.
Strategic assessment, similar to measures introduced in the US and Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, was masterminded by environmental vice-minister Pan Yue .
It was submitted to the State Council in 2007 but it has been delayed repeatedly because of official bickering, Professor Wang said.
Environmentalists had insisted that the regulation should include provisions enlisting public participation in the decision-making process, including holding public hearings on contentious projects and releasing important information. But that aspect failed to get through.