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Resolve Key to Battling Scourge of Pollution
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The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) the country's top environmental watchdog named and shamed 11 riverside companies as heavy polluters last week.

SEPA demonstrated its determination to curb rampant pollution, ordering the firms to clean up their acts or face fines and possible closure.

It has been reported that another 10 illegal petrochemical, transportation and power projects located near rivers will be punished for posing a threat to the environment.

The administration has pledged to investigate 127 chemical and petrochemical projects for threatening water, densely populated areas and ecological protection zones.

Pan Yue, vice-minister of SEPA, has repeatedly sent a clear message in interviews with a host of newspapers. The ongoing anti-pollution campaign will be "long-term and merciless, rather than transitory like a storm."

Such high profile and encouraging moves are rare, if not unprecedented, given the fact SEPA has always been considered a relatively powerless department.

In fact, even Pan himself admitted a number of hurdles including local officials' preoccupation with economic development and local protectionism stand in the way of SEPA's work.

Although SEPA has long been pushing for an environmental assessment system prior to approving a large project, environmental protection agencies have "little say and power" in making the system work in practice.

Because environmental reviews are not legally binding, environmental protection agencies usually can do nothing if related administrators refuse to accept recommendations in their assessment reports when deciding whether to let a project go forward or not.

Such a dilemma suggests we can expect an uphill, arduous fight against pollution. The anti-pollution bid has never been more in need of support than it is now.

Following two decades of fast economic growth that has brought wealth to the people, pollution has also spewed out, choking air and water.

One recent and alarming environmental disaster was the spillage of benzene into the Songhua River in northeast China that resulted from a chemical plant explosion on November 13.

More than 70 percent of the country's rivers and lakes are polluted and ground water in 90 percent of Chinese cities is tainted, according to government reports.

Due to widespread pollution caused by industrial by-products and untreated human waste, about 400 of China's 600 largest cities suffer from water shortages and about 300 million rural residents, or a third of the total countryside population, drink unsafe water.

As Pan has warned, China's development has entered a phase of high-level environmental risk pollution has gone beyond individual factories or regions to become pervasive and structural.

The severe situation is obviously a serious challenge for top decision-makers, who must save the country from worsening pollution to guarantee sustainable development.

As the state of the environment affects the health and safety of each citizen, the pollution problem is an important part of the government's people-centered scientific concept of development, which promotes harmony between man's development and nature.

Undoubtedly, much needs to be done to effectively deal with pollution. But showing the political will to win the fight should, and will, be a necessary and good start.

All local officials should be alerted to the fact that there is little time to lose if pollution is to be cut. As Pan said "it is high time to do it."

(China Daily February 13, 2006)

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