China awakens to protecting the environment

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With China's iron business in trouble and facing losses, Malanzhuang Iron Mine is spending 2.4 million yuan (390,000 U.S. Dollars) planting on slag heaps.

Since 2008, more than 28 million yuan has been spent by the company in Qian'an City, Hebei Province, undoing the damage done by the largest open iron ore mine in Asia. The Malanzhuang mine is a joint venture between the Shougang Group, a leading steelmaker, and Tangshan City, which administers Qian'an.

On the outskirts of Qian'an, some 200 km east of Beijing, 20 hectares of dense shrubbery covering what was once a large tailings reservoir are now home to numerous wild birds.

Liu Zuoli, general manager of Malanzhuang, believes that harmony with the natural world is part of productivity and reflects the value of labor."We don't simply abandon tailings reservoirs any more like we used to, leaving them barren and a source of sandstorms," Liu said.

In 2007, China's top leadership pushed ecological agenda up the list of the nation's priorities, a great advance after nearly three decades of rapid growth that paid no heed to pollution or damage to the ecosystem. In 2012, the greening of society was incorporated into the nation's overall development plan.

Over the past seven years, Qian'an has spent 2 billion yuan on the treatment and restoration of nearly 200 tailings reservoirs, with 1,500 hectares of mining areas restored to something close to their former glory.

Song Xiaojie, 35, is a graduate in agriculture and forestry. She is chief technical consultant for vegetation restoration at the mine and plants trees with her colleagues every spring."Repairing the ecosystem is an indispensable part of our work," she said.

The city divided itself into three major zones -- eco-agriculture, new industries and residential -- in 2013. Forest coverage in Qian'an reached 40.8 percent last year, nearly double the national average. The city has cut iron and steel capacity by nearly 10 million tonnes.

Restoration of mining areas is just one aspect of building a better Qian'an. The city signed an agreement with Hollywood China Investment Group in May to build a Paramount theme park there within five years. The core scenic area of the project will cost upwards of 30 billion yuan and the park is expected to host up to 30 million tourists each year.

Environmental protection is now important for evaluating township officials, 20 percent of the full evacuation scores among township officials in Qian'an, for example.

"Qian'an boomed because of mining and became strong through the associated industries. Going forward, Qian'an will be prosperous thanks to its greenery," said Zhang Shuyun, mayor of the city.

Rule of law in environment protection

With World Environment Day celebrated this Friday, it's a good time to take stock of China's progress on the environment this year. In January, the new Environmental Protection Law came into effect, with tough measures against polluters and high fines. The new rules allow NGOs to initiate environmental lawsuits.

Record fines have already been imposed this year. In March, Zhangjiakou City in Hebei fined a sewage center 6.74 million yuan for discharging four to five times the national limit of pollutants. Beijing slapped a fine of 3.9 million yuan on a food company for water pollution.

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