China's environment watchdog said Wednesday it will not compromise environmental standards in approving projects under the country's massive 4-trillion-yuan economic stimulus plan.
Wu Xiaoqing, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, said the ministry had rejected or postponed the approval of 14 projects worth a combined investment of 104 billion yuan (15.2 billion U.S. dollars) since the stimulus plan was announced last November to prevent a slowdown in the world's fastest growing economy.
These projects are in sectors of chemicals, petrochemicals, steel, coal-fired power generation and paper making, Wu said at a press conference on the sidelines of the parliament's annual session.
"We will build a firewall to say no to projects that are not in line with the country's laws and regulations," he said, adding the government had stressed project screening when setting its growth target at 8 percent for 2009.
"We'd rather be seen as the bad guy at the moment than make our way into the history as sinners," he said, "we must be very strict in applying environmental standards."
Zhang Lijun, also a vice environment minister, said China's measures to tackle the crisis was not only about ensuring an 8-percent growth, but also about promoting domestic consumption and economic restructuring.
Chinese government has explicitly banned energy-intensive and highly polluting projects and those that may consume too much resources, said Zhang.
"This is a red line we can never cross," he said.
Zhu said the ministry would say no to four categories of projects including projects explicitly banned by the government; energy and resource-intensive projects that are highly pollutive; projects that will result in deterioration of the local environment; and projects located in nature reserves.
The ministry would strictly restrict projects that may threaten drinking water sources and damage scenic sites, he added.
"We must absolutely prevent projects that have already been turned down from being renewed in disguise of technological upgrade and boosting domestic demand," Wu told reporters.
His comment might serve as reassurance to the country's lawmakers and political advisors who are worried that the massive stimulus plan may bring "dead projects", projects suspended under previous macro control, into life again.
The ministry had released two documents providing what will be approved by itself and what will be approved by local environmental protection authorities, as well as what categories of projects shall be approved and what categories shall be rejected, Wu added.
The ministry had approved projects worth more than 970 billion yuan by the end of February since the stimulus plan is announced, with more than 280 billion yuan to be invested in infrastructure projects.
(Xinhua News Agency March 11, 2009)