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Environmental Authority Calls for Amendment of Environmental Law
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“Nearly all the rivers have been polluted,” said Sheng Huaren, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee while delivering a report at a meeting of the NPC Standing Committee on August 26.


Beginning in May, a law enforcement inspection group was sent by the NPC Standing Committee to conduct a nationwide inspection in three areas: solid waste, water pollution and atmosphere pollution controls.


The above quote from Sheng was his conclusion drawn from the results of on-the-spot investigation on the Yellow River’s four tributaries – Weihe, Yanhe, Fenhe and Suhe rivers – all of which have been seriously polluted.


The main culprits for water quality deterioration are industrial and residential waste water discharges that were not disposed of properly to meet certain state standards.


For instance, sewage discharged into the Weihe River in Shaanxi Province amounts to 600 million tons each year, four times the river’s environmental capacity; for the Fenhe River which is honored as Mother River in Shanxi Province, 66 percent of the water has deteriorated to Level V, the highest pollution level, while the river water flowing to the lower reaches beyond Taiyuan, Shanxi’s capital city, has completely lost its ecological functions.


Besides river pollution, the report shows that solid waste and atmosphere pollution are at alarming levels.


The inspection group found that the industrial solid waste accumulation across the country has approached 8 billion tons, occupying and destroying 2 million mu (about 133,333 hectares) of soil; half of the waste from home in urban areas is dumped, causing severe ground and surface water pollution.


The report warns that air quality in 40 percent of cities is below Level II. There are 680 coking plants in Shanxi, of which only 65 have got an approval for operation from environmental authorities while only 5 percent of plants discharged de-sulfurized sulfur dioxide. This has taken its toll on the province – none of its 11 major cities has achieved Level II or “fairly good” air quality.


Enterprises’ profits would diminish if they strictly obeyed environmental laws and regulations, so they choose to challenge legally binding standards, environmental experts explained. While environmental assessment has not been effectively linked with the performance appraisal of governmental officials, there is little enthusiasm for taking substantial measures to curb pollution.


That’s why polluting events occur frequently in spite of repeated “environment blasts” launched by SEPA.


For this reason, SEPA called for an urgent amendment of laws and regulations concerned with environmental protection to ensure the general responsibility of local governments and avoid their disturbance in law enforcement.


“Only environmental laws can solve the problems that illegal activities cost low prices while obeying laws cost higher prices,” said Yang Chaofei, director of the policy and law department of SEPA at the International Symposium of Ecological Compensation Mechanism which opened in Beijing on August 24.


The Law on Environmental Protection in force has not been amended in 17 years since its promulgation in 1989. “It is difficult now for the Law to be suitable for the times and present environmental protection situation,” said Xia Guang, director of the economy and policy research center of SEPA. Xie led a research group to conduct field investigations in 20 cities on enforcement of the Law, and his conclusion was that “it is very urgent to amend and improve the Law.”


In the retrieved 1,553 questionnaires, over 60 percent respondents believe it is very hard for the present Environmental Protection Law to guarantee the responsibility of local government for environmental quality; 95 percent think it is necessary to impose more legal responsibility on administrators.


Under the general background of market economy, the law has shown apparent deficiency in forming an environment supervision mechanism, according to the research team.


For instance, local environmental protection administrations at various levels are under dual leadership of SEPA and local governments. However, since their financial and personnel affairs are controlled by local governments, work of local environmental administrations is always affected by local governments.


Additionally, governmental environmental protection functions are distributed across many departments including environmental protection, water resources, communication, land and resources and public security, and communications between these departments are often stifled. To a great extent, united supervision and administration, a function of environmental protection departments, has become a goal instead of a reality.


The 36th article of the Environmental Protection Law stipulates that enterprises or public institutions that cause environmental pollution accidents shall be given disciplinary sanctions if the pollution is severe. This obviously does not go far enough, said the research group.


Therefore, Xia Guang and other experts suggest making environmental responsibilities of officials and environment assessment systems for officials top priorities in the amendment to the Law on Environmental Protection.


“Amendment of the Law will involve lots of adjustments to a series of existing laws and regulations concerned with environment and resources. Up to now, it is still a controversial issue, and further research need to be done to decide how to amend,” said Mao Rubai, chairman of the Environmental and Resources Protection Committee of NPC on August 26, “The committee is losing no time in doing demonstration and an initial conclusion is expected to be finished by the beginning of next year.”


( by Zhang Tingting, September 2, 2006)

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