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30 Projects Frozen on Environmental Grounds

On Tuesday, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) announced the suspension of 30 large projects that have failed to meet environmental standards.

Twenty-six of them are hydropower stations, thermal-power plants and other energy projects, including two in the Three Gorges area, said Pan Yue, the SEPA's vice director.

One of the biggest, the Xiluodu hydropower plant, is in the area bordering Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, along a section of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. It had involved an investment of 44.6 billion yuan (US$5 billion).

The Three Gorges underground power plant, with an investment of 6.997 billion yuan (US$846 million), is also on the list of frozen developments.

"The projects were halted because they failed to pass environmental impact assessments," said Pan, adding that they posed considerable threats to the environment.

The Law on Environmental Impact Assessment, effective since September 1, 2003, stipulates that all projects must pass environmental impact assessments before they can be constructed. However, many go ahead without the SEPA's approval, assuming environmental bureaus will automatically approve them.

"We must strengthen our efforts. We shall never be reduced to rubber-stamping. We must take concrete action," Pan said, vowing that his administration would step up efforts to curb heavily polluting projects, especially those relating to power generation and the production of iron, steel, cement and aluminum.

Problems abound in the enforcement of environmental regulations. Pan warned that local governments have often been unenthusiastic in respecting them whilst lured by economic growth.

"Although environmental authorities are authorized by law to suspend such projects, they don't have the ability to actually stop them," Pan said.

The SEPA doesn't have the power to impose administrative penalties; for instance, they cannot stop financial bodies offering loans to law-breaking firms. In such a case, it needs the cooperation of other government departments.

The move has been made to demonstrate central government's backing of the SEPA's work. Pan said government bodies such as the Ministry of Supervision have promised to intervene if needed.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily January 19, 2005)

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