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China Raises Heat On Polluters

Agencies act to halt pollution, which is worsening despite repeated attempts to control it

by Jean-François Tremblay
September 10, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 37

AS THE QUALITY of the environment deteriorates in China, the government is introducing a series of measures aimed at reversing the trend.

The National People's Congress, China's parliament, is considering setting 1 million renminbi, or $130,000, as the maximum a company can be fined for discharging an excess of water pollutants. At present, the maximum fine is one-tenth that amount.

Separately, the State-Owned Assets Supervision & Administration Commission (SASAC), a body that oversees government-owned companies, has ordered 154 state firms to improve their environmental performance. The companies produce power, metals, oil, petrochemicals, and construction materials.

According to government news agency Xinhua, SASAC demanded that the companies improve their energy efficiency 20% and cut their emissions 10% by 2009 compared with 2005 levels. SASAC expects an exemplary environmental performance from state-owned companies, Xinhua reported.

Meanwhile, the State Environmental Protection Agency announced that, over the past two months, it ordered 400 heavily polluting companies to cease business and 250 more companies to stop operating until they upgrade their emissions treatment facilities.

Ma Jun, founder of the Beijing-based Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, tells C&EN he is encouraged that the National People's Congress is considering raising fines for water polluters. "At present, there aren't sufficient incentives for polluters to change their behavior," he says. Ma's group is a nongovernmental organization that monitors water pollution in China.

But the move can be effective only if China improves its enforcement capabilities, Ma says. Local officials not under the central government's direct control are in charge of fining polluters throughout China, and "they may not be keen to punish a local factory," he says.

Chinese government initiatives to control pollution do not have a good track record. In 1998, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved a comprehensive plan to prevent and treat water pollution in Taihu Lake, one of China's largest. Late last year, however, a large blue-green algae bloom appeared in the lake due to rising quantities of sewage and industrial effluents.



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