Guangdong's environmental watchdog has pledged that it will not loosen green regulations in pursuing a new round of economic growth, but some experts have expressed concern about the feasibility of the province's dual goals of supporting massive industrial projects and improving the environment.
Li Qing, head of the provincial Environmental Protection Bureau, said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Guangdong People's Congress yesterday that the province would protect the "ecological bottom line" and tackle air, water and heavy-metal pollution.
"With Guangdong putting economic development as a priority, to secure its top spot in terms of total economic output, we must have innovative mechanisms and measurements to protect the environment," Li said.
He referred to the establishment of a scheme to control emissions and allocate more support to key industrial projects and priority sectors - high-tech and emerging strategic industries - as well as put the brakes on polluting businesses and optimise the location of industries.
"For instance, we'll not allow any new power plants in the Pearl River Delta. Rather, they can be built in the east or west of the province, where environmental capacity is larger," he said.
Li also said his department would "simplify environmental review procedures for companies that are applying for initial public offerings".
Guangdong leaders at the meeting have vowed to speed up economic development for fear of being overtaken by Jiangsu in terms of total economic output. A government work report said the construction of several heavy-industry projects - including iron and steel plants, oil refineries and petrochemical plants - and several high-end manufacturing bases would be accelerated this year.
Some environmentalists said they were worried that the province's renewed enthusiasm for staying No1 in terms of economic output among the mainland's 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions - under new party chief Hu Chunhua - could lead to another round of blind investment and spread pollution woes to less-developed regions outside the Pearl River Delta.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Zhou Rong said Zhanjiang , where a large petrochemical base was planned, had the best air quality in Guangdong and even southern China. "With several big oil and petrochemical projects in the pipeline, it is almost certain that the city's environment will be degraded, even if the most stringent standards are adopted," Zhou said.
Another expert, reluctant to be identified, pointed out that the emission control scheme would target only two major air and two major water pollutants, and was insufficient to ward off risks from other pollutants posed by heavy industrial projects.
A director at a Guangzhou-based green organisation, also reluctant to be named, said communities in the province's east and west usually had a weaker voice on environmental concerns than those in bigger cities. "The growth plan should not be decided only by the provincial governor, it is essential that local people's opinions are heeded."