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Environment Watchdog Calls for Sharper Teeth
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Pan Yue, vice-minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), has called for the introduction of a new regulation that would require an environmental impact assessment to be carried out prior to the commencement of any major construction project.


Despite being the country's top environment watchdog, the SEPA has little power to enforce environmental laws at a local level.


A file issued last year by the State Council said that the SEPA could refuse "approval of new projects" in its efforts to protect the environment.


"But we lack legislation in the field to give us the power to issue the bans," Pan told People's Daily during a recent interview.


He said the SEPA was often questioned by companies over its authority to issue bans on new projects.


Pan called on the State Council to issue a regulation on environmental impact assessments soon to provide a sound legal foundation for the ministry's work.


In January, the SEPA refused approval for dozens of new industrial projects as the government sought to strengthen environmental controls, reduce pollution and control unfettered investment.


The list included four major power projects by the country's power giants, including China Huaneng Group and China Guodian Group, in a bid to hit back at the heavy polluting power industry.


The bans were lifted in April, however, after the plants complied with the ruling and shut down their polluting units.


"The ban, though only short-lasting was fruitful. The mechanism of banning will hopefully be standardized under the framework of legislation," Pan said.


Companies in the heavily polluted and accident-plagued regions along the Huaihe River in east China and Songhua River in northeast China will likely become the focus of a new round of bans to be initiated soon, Pan said.


He said that the ban in January helped ensure the smooth implementation of orders from the central government, and accelerate industrial restructuring.


Authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of 2006 when the country missed its target to reduce key emissions by 2 percent as the economy grew faster than expected.


Environmental authorities said emissions of sulfur dioxide, the chief cause of acid rain, grew to 25.9 million tons in 2006, up 1.8 percent from 2005. China aims to reduce major emissions by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010.


(China Daily May 10, 2007)

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