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China to Launch Pollution Investigation in 2008
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China's first nationwide investigation into the sources of environmental pollution will get underway early in 2008, according to the top environmental official.

"It will take three years to ascertain how much pollution is discharged all over the country," Zhou Shengxian, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), told the first national work conference on environmental policies and the legal system held Wednesday in Beijing.

A list of products likely to cause heavy pollution is being drafted. The list is expected to provide a reference for the government to exclude certain items from export rebates, levy higher customs duties on them or set limits on their importation. 

Zhou said the number of complaints and protests from the public over pollution incidents had increased at an annual rate of 30 percent in recent years mainly due to slack law enforcement.

Ministry figures show that pollution caused losses of 511.8 billion yuan (US$65.4 billion) in 2004. This was 3.05 percent of the 16 trillion yuan (US$2 trillion) gross domestic product that year.

The victims, government and society bore most of the losses because of inadequate compensation.

To better protect the interests of environmental victims and help enterprises share the risks, SEPA plans to promote environmental insurance in cooperation with the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

"We'll monitor industries of high risk and heavy pollution or factories located in environmentally fragile areas," said Bie Tao from the department of policies, laws and regulations of SEPA. "Enterprises involved in hazardous chemical products will be obliged to buy insurance."

The People's Insurance Company of China (PICC) confirmed that promotion of environmental insurance is under development. "Some of our liability insurance already cover compensation for environmental accidents but PICC will put forward a special environmental insurance," said a researcher with the liability department of the company.

However, Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar to Tsinghua University, said that without a clear and enforceable regulatory framework to help quantify risks, insurance companies might be reluctant to offer such policies.

The fine for non-compliance is capped at 200,000 yuan (US$25,557.5), according to the current Air Pollution and Prevention Law, regardless of its seriousness or duration.

(China Daily December 15, 2006)

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