More than 7,300 enterprises across the country have been shut down and over 2,000 ordered to stop production and take treatment measures after they were found to be seriously polluting the environment.
In addition, more than 1,000 companies have been asked to better treat pollutants they discharge within a certain timeframe to meet national standards or they, too, will face action.
Such enterprises were exposed in a national blitz aimed at polluters in June and September, when nearly 496,000 inspectors checked 201,000 enterprises across the country.
The inspections were carried out jointly by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and five other ministries, including the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Supervision.
Almost 20,900 cases involving environmental lawbreakers were recorded and, to date, about 97 percent of the cases have been solved, according to SEPA Vice-Minister Wang Jirong.
Along with related ministries, SEPA will continue its crackdown on illegal polluters with a special emphasis this year on drinking water, Wang said yesterday in Beijing.
"The various measures that have been taken to clean up illegally polluting enterprises will be preserved," she said.
Wang called on environmental protection departments at all levels to keep a close watch on on-going cases to prevent activities from recurring.
Persons in charge of local departments will be held administratively responsible if local enterprises pollute illegally again, she added.
Polluters have long been a headache for environment watchdogs at all levels in China.
Many local governments try to protect such enterprises because of the benefits companies bring to local economic development.
Punishments levied on the enterprises often are not severe enough, an official with the SEPA environment supervision bureau explained.
"There is a saying among such enterprises that the cost of abiding by the law is higher than that of violating them," he said, only identifying himself as Sun.
The maximum fine that can be imposed by provincial, city-level and county-level environmental protection departments is 200,000 yuan (US$24,000), 50,000 yuan (US$6,040) and 20,000 yuan (US$2,400), respectively, according to Sun.
Such sums cannot effectively stamp out polluting enterprises, since the cost of treating waste usually exceeds the fines firms receive.
(China Daily February 26, 2004)