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China to Crack down on Water Polluters in 2004

China will crack down on water polluters and revise laws and regulations to give its environmental watchdog more clout, said senior environment officials in Beijing Monday.

Chen Shanrong, deputy director of the emergency and investigation center of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said a team formed by six central government departments will begin an inspection tour later this year to identify factories that illegally discharge pollutants into major waterways.


The SEPA said last week that China's major waterways were still severely polluted after years of cleaning. Many factories along the main rivers and lakes discharged more toxic and organic pollutants than the maximum allowed in the regulations.


"A crackdown action is urgently needed to stop illegal polluters. The SEPA plans to clean the major waterways before 2005," said Chen, who joined the 2003 campaign against small chemical plants and paper makers that used outdated technologies.


However, he admitted that the environmental watchdog was restricted by its limited powers.


China's environmental law and regulations state that the SEPA has no powers to close polluters, but must resort to local governments to do so. "When some local governments think Gross Domestic Production (GDP) is more important and thus shields polluters, the cleaning plan is halted," said Chen.


"The SEPA expects to have the powers to enforce decisions without the intervention of local governments," said Wang Suli, vice-director of SEPA's legislation office.


He said the country's legislative body was reviewing a law which endowed public service departments like the SEPA such rights.


"Another problem is that the fine stipulated in the current regulations is too small to deter the polluters," said Chen.


The solution is to eliminate industries that are highly polluting or using outdated technologies, said Wang.


(Xinhua News Agency February 23, 2004)

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