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China to Improve Environmental Assessment
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China will improve strategic environmental assessment procedures in key regions and industries after the suspension of a controversial paraxylene (PX) project in Xiamen, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).


SEPA's deputy director Pan Yue said "China will mobilize social forces to speed up strategic environmental assessment so that environmental protection can play a bigger role in government decision-making processes."


An expert committee for environmental assessment was formed in Beijing on Friday. The committee, composed of 39 experts in economics, society, environment and resources will carry out environmental assessments in several key regions and industries, according to SEPA.


The committee will study the geographic distribution and development of key industries such as the petrochemical, chemical and non-ferrous metals sectors in areas like Tianjin's Binhai New Area, Chengdu and Chongqing economic zones, according to the SEPA.


The committee will make plan for these areas' future development with environmental protection taken into consideration, after analyzing their investment, energy consumption, pollutant discharges and pollutant treatment since 2000.


"Some local governments are so keen to promote industrialization and urbanization that they seldom consider factors like environment and resources while making polices and overall city planning," CEPA's deputy director Pan Yue said.


"Some local governments do not attach enough importance to environmental assessment, and this has led to chaotic industrial distribution and an irrational industrial structure," he said.


Several major environmental disputes have ensued and we should learn a lesson from them, he said, referring to the paraxylene (PX) project in Xiamen.


The city government of Xiamen, a port city in east China's Fujian Province, decided to suspend construction of the potentially dangerous chemical project amid fears of pollution on May 30.


The 10.8 billion yuan (about US$1.4 billion) paraxylene (PX) project by Tenglong Aromatic PX (Xiamen) Co. Ltd was supposed to be located just 16 kilometers from the city center. Citizens sent a barrage of protest to city officials about the dangers of the plant.


On June 7, Pan announced the SEPA would carry out an immediate environmental assessment of Xiamen city's planning. "SEPA will invite experts to assess Xiamen's urban planning from the environmental point of view and make suggestions for Xiamen's future," Pan wrote on the SEPA website.


SEPA statistics show 90 percent of rivers that thread their way through Chinese cities are polluted, more than 300 million rural residents are unable to drink clean water and more than 400 million urban residents are unable to breathe fresh air. In 2006, one major environmental incident occurred every two days and nearly 600,000 Chinese people lodged complaints about environmental problems.


(Xinhua News Agency June 23, 2007)

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