China is to launch its first nationwide investigation into the sources of environmental pollution at the beginning of 2008, according to a top environmental official.
"It will take three years to ascertain just how much pollutant is discharged all over the country," said Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
A list of products likely to cause heavy pollution is being drafted, Zhou told the first national work conference on environmental policies and the legal system.
Zhou said that the list would provide a reference for the government, who will then exclude the items from export rebates, slap higher customs duties on them or impose limits on imports.
Zhou also acknowledged the disadvantages of the current environmental legal and policy system.
"The number of complaints and protests over pollution has been rising at an annual rate of 30 percent in recent years," he said.
"Pollution problems have undermined social stability in some areas," he said, attributing it mainly to an inadequate legal system and slack law enforcement.
He pointed out that the Environmental Protection Law, which has not been amended since 1989, was too "soft" as fines were too low and local environment departments were not granted enough authority and power.
At present, the law imposes a maximum penalty of 100,000 yuan (US$12,800) on companies for flaunting environmental regulations. Some companies feel it is cheaper to pay the fine than correct their actions.
"It's even harder to implement related laws and regulations when local officials meddle in affairs and supervision work is only nominal in some areas," he said.
He said that the new amendments to the Environmental Protection Law would strive to solve these problems.
He said the administration was also cooperating with the People's Bank of China to include enterprises' violations of environmental laws on their credit records.
The country is also drafting a regulation on the transport and management of radioactive substances and a law to ensure the security of genetically modified animals and plants, he added.
(Xinhua News Agency December 13, 2006)