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Community Wages War on Construction
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On June 7, China's State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) called for a waste incinerator plant in Beijing's northern district of Haidian to suspend construction due to pollution concerns. This was a happy victory for nearby residents who vehemently opposed the proposed plant. A recent feature in the local Democracy & Law daily paper reveals the hard work behind the six-month campaign they launched to safeguard their neighborhood.

As a key project listed in Beijing's Urban Planning Blueprint 2005-2010, an incinerator plant was scheduled to be built at the Liulitun landfill in Haidian. Construction of the 800 million yuan (US$100 million) plant was expected to start in mid-March, 2007.

The strong odor emanating from the landfill plant in Liulitun has long been a nuisance to residents living nearby; within six kilometers in radius around the landfill there are 10 communities. The closest one is less than 300 meters from the landfill, even though the government allows a landfill to be no less than 500 meters away.

In the last decade, local residents had made several failed appeals to the government about eliminating the pollution. A local official said the new incinerator was planned as an enclosed facility to reduce its effect on the environment. However, residents believed that burning the garbage, particularly organic waste, would actually cause more serious air pollution.

An article posted on the Internet bulletin board of one nearby community served to rally support: "To protect our neighborhood, the first step is stopping construction of the incinerator and the second is solving the long-term air and water pollution caused by the existing landfill. It will take more time and effort to deal with the second one, but the incinerator requires we take immediate action."

The campaign was led by some youthful newcomers who bought houses in the communities at Liulitun. Many residents didn't believe in the environment assessment made by the municipal authority. On the contrary, they were informed that operating the incinerator would result in further harmful emissions to the local environment, especially the dioxin.

Their appeals grabbed the attention of local committee members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) last December. After a detailed investigation, residents wrote a letter requesting that the local government suspend the plan to build the incinerator plant.

In January of this year, residents appealed to the municipal environment protection bureau to withdraw their approval of the plant's environmental impact report. Because the project was also integral to urban planning, they were asked to file another administrative review with the district government. Their request was eventually denied on May 25.

The campaign leadership encouraged homeowners to make donations for banners and voice their environmental concerns to neighboring communities. "Some 90 percent of the residents supported our campaign but only a few of them could spare the time to participate in our activities," activist Zhong Minyi explained.

"Luckily, one of our neighbors has a connection with Zhou Jinfeng, member of the CPPCC National Committee. In March, Zhou made a proposal on the incinerator plant at the CPPCC Plenary Session. The case was then widely covered by domestic newspapers, which helped to push our campaign forward," Zhong said.

"Our campaign was aided by the enthusiasm of young residents and efficient information sharing online. We also faced great resistance from authority. Policemen came to my house twice to persuade me not to get involved in the campaign," Zhong revealed.

On June 5, the homeowners stood in uniform shirts outside the offices of SEPA, China's top environmental watchdog, demanding an interview with the director. Two days later, Pan Yue, vice director of SEPA, said at a media briefing that the incinerator's current location was unfit for use because of its proximity to both the city's drinking water source and several nearby communities. Moreover, due to its position, strong northerly winds could easily blow the plant's emissions southward and into other parts of the city.

On June 12, SEPA publicly announced the suspension of plant construction and advised the municipal government to better listen to public opinions and gather more experts to assess the project's potential environmental impact.

"The campaign is not over. We have to be vigilant for the revival of the incinerator," Zhong said.

Zhong believes the residents in his community are still lucky compared to those in other parts of the city. There is another landfill too close to residential areas at the border of the Chaoyang and Tongzhou districts, inside the precinct of Chaoyang District to the east. Because of wind direction, Chaoyang residents are only mildly bothered, but it makes a big impact on the lives of Tongzhou residents.

They have made several appeals, but as yet no government agencies answered them.

(China.org.cn by Wang Zhiyong, August 19, 2007)

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