Institutional construction is needed to guarantee public participation in environmental protection, says a commentary in Dazhong Daily. An excerpt follows:
The State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) last week released a set of guidelines on public participation in environmental impact assessment, encouraging direct involvement from the general public in the country's environmental affairs.
This is the first official document on public involvement in the environmental sector, which will make government decisions in the sector more transparent and democratic.
Last year, a series of environment issues plunged SEPA into an administrative accountability storm. The issues include a construction project that could lead to an ecological disaster in the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, water pollution in the Songhua River and disputes over the construction of a dam on the Nujiang River. Then came the "environment impact assessment storm," which showed the efforts made by the government in this aspect.
Although there are some articles on public involvement in the Environment Impact Assessment Law, they are very ambiguous and not practical. The provisional measures give specific arrangement procedures. It gives recognition and respect to the public right to environment participation, and also shows the government's open mind for better environment protection.
But such a right of participation is still partial in the assessment stage. There is still a lack of arrangements in the policy-making and law-enforcement phases.
In a modern society, every citizen has a right to live in a good environment. Citizens should be able to participate based on their rights to know.
Making such provisional measures is a good way to realize citizens' right to participate. But more should be included, such as citizens' rights to participate in law-making, policy-making and law-enforcement. There should be an open mechanism to provide environment information, and a democratic system encouraging the public to participate in decision-making concerning the environment.
(China Daily February 27, 2006)