China air pollution

China’s eco-warriors target polluters and officials in expanded nationwide checks

Inspectors will fan out across the country to help clear the air but one analyst calls for more rigid enforcement of rules against pollution

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 11:27pm

China’s top environmental watchdog will roll out spot checks on firms and local governments across the country this year to try to rein in pollution, state media reported on Monday.

But one analyst said the authorities should adopt a systematic approach to ensure general compliance with environmental legislation rather than relying just on random inspections.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection was last year given powers to carry out inspections without warning and call local authorities or company officials to account. In a first wave of spot checks that year, teams were sent to 16 cities and provinces, including Beijing and Shanghai.

The checks are not meant to resolve any specific environmental problems but to asses how well officials were applying central government policy.

The results of the checks were included in reports sent to the Communist Party’s Central Committee and used to judge each cadre’s job performance.

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Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining told a forum on Sunday that about 6,400 people were punished or held responsible as a result of breaches uncovered in last year’s spot checks, China Youth Daily reported. The inspections would be expanded and carried out across the country this year, Chen was quoted as saying.

The mainland is fighting an uphill battle against environmental degradation after decades of rapid economic growth at the cost of contamination of its air, soil and water. Premier Li Keqiang pledged three years ago that the government would wage a war on pollution.

Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the inspection programme was effective in that it focused on barriers local governments put in the way of environmental protection.

“Local authorities were nervous because the inspection teams were there to address complaints about various long-standing issues that had finally been put on the radar,” Ma said.

“But eventually we hope a system will be in place such as strict enforcement of the Environmental Protection Law, rather than relying on inspections from higher levels.”

As part of the checks, the inspection teams talk to provincial level officials, handle tip-offs and inspect local government offices. They also urge local authorities to speed up resolution of complaints of local environmental problems.

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Inspectors found that in Hebei province, for example, the key problems centred on the main officials not making environmental protection a high enough priority. “There is a big gap between what the central government expected and how the province worked,” inspectors said in a report on the province last year.

Also on Sunday, the ministry also said inspectors found more than 200 breaches of temporary smog curbs imposed in various cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, in response to an air ­pollution outbreak that started on Wednesday. Air quality is expected to improve on Friday with the arrival of a cold front.

The breaches included unauthorised restarting of production and non-compliance with emission reduction measures. Governments and firms were told to remedy the problems.