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Hold Polluters to Account
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Each time a grim picture is drawn about the country's increasing pollution, the public will be shocked to further sharpen their awareness of environmental protection.

In this sense, the warning against higher pollutant emissions by the country's top environmental watchdog is more than needed.

On Monday, the director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) confirmed that discharges of COD (chemical oxygen demand) and SO2 (sulphur dioxide) increased by 4.2 percent and 5.8 percent respectively from the same period last year.

About one month after the statistical officials figured out how fast the national economy has grown in the first half of the year, the SEPA has now come up with the environmental cost.

This is not, in fact, the first time these pollution numbers have been released: An article by the SEPA published early this month had already detailed the rise of pollutant emissions. Yet by repeating the distressing fact of pollution's increase as a result of rapid economic growth, the environmental watchdog apparently attempts to drive home more sense of urgency.

In fact, when it was reported that the country's energy intensity, instead of declining as expected, has climbed by 0.8 percent year-on-year due to excessive and extensive investment growth in the first six months, our annual environmental prospects were, unsurprisingly, doomed.

China became the world's largest sulfur dioxide discharger in 2005. And its discharge of COD, a typical indicator used to measure water pollution, was also high enough to demand immediate control.

By making it a compulsory target, the Chinese government plans to cut both COD and sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 percent during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10).

However, to stop and reverse the country's environmental deterioration, the SEPA should add more teeth to its supervision work.

It is certainly necessary to depict a general picture about the country's environmental conditions to keep the public informed of the severity of the problem.

But it is equally important, if not more so, for the environmental watchdog to single out those heaviest polluters and expose them to public scrutiny.

The SEPA has done a good job in heightening public awareness. Its intervention in some notorious pollution cases won it broad public endorsement.

But it would be great if it could, on a regular basis, say which enterprises have performed worst in cutting pollutant emissions and which local governments have done the least to fulfil their environmental commitments.

By naming polluters, on the one hand, the environmental watchdog could focus its supervision on prompt corrective action by these pollution-makers while setting examples for many other lesser polluters to follow.

On the other hand, the public will also be invited to keep a close eye on those named polluters.

(China Daily August 16, 2006)

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