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Sacked Environmental Chief Appointed NDRC Deputy Director
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A former environmental chief who took the blame for a river pollution accident in 2005 and resigned after that has been appointed deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

The NDRC's English web-site lists the 57-year-old Xie Zhenhua, former director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, as a vice minister who enjoys the benefits of a ministerial official.

The NDRC is one of China's most powerful agencies in charge of directing economic decisions. Now it has 12 deputy directors.

China's cabinet approved Xie's resignation on December 2, 2005, seven years after he took office, following a chemical spill that seriously polluted the country's northeastern Songhua River.

Xie was the highest-ranking official to be removed from office for an environmental incident.

Around 100 tons of pollutants containing hazardous benzene spilled into the Songhua River after a chemical plant explosion on November 13 of 2005 in northeast China's Jilin Province. The incident forced cities along the river, including Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province and a city of more than three million people, to temporarily suspend water supply.

As the pollutants were also expected to flow into a major border river between China and Russia, diplomatic efforts and environmental cooperation were conducted to minimize the impact of trans-border pollution.

Xie, who began working for the NDRC at the end of 2006, is in charge of environmental protection and energy saving, Saturday's 21st Century Business Herald reported.

The report said Xie's department will be a new major section of the NDRC's work.

Ma Kai, minister in charge of the NDRC, said earlier that China faces severe problems relating to high energy consumption and heavy environmental pollution, and has urged stronger efforts in the two areas.

China had planned to cut its per unit domestic gross product (GDP) energy consumption by four percent in 2006, as part of an ambitious plan to reduce its energy consumption efficiency by 20 percent in the five years up to 2010.

But officials failed to fulfil the four percent quota. Figures with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed the country's energy consumption for unit GDP rose 0.8 percent, instead of a decrease in the first half of 2006.

Authorities used the words "very hard" to describe the difficulties they are facing in reducing energy consumption to the target level.

The central government has decided to make the reduction of energy consumption and pollution the key to restructuring its economy in 2007, attaching unprecedented importance to energy saving.

Analysts said the year 2007 will be vital to achieving the five-year target, and one that must yield visible results.

(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2007)

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