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Watchdog Given Teeth to Bite Major Polluters
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The State Council announced a decision to further promote environmental protection on Tuesday but warned the situation "is still severe."

Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), explained the challenge has three elements.

In the first place, environmental pollution has never been so serious, and will continue to exist for the next 15 years.

Second, polluting incidents have become more frequent, posing a further threat to the already fragile environment.

Finally, such incidents have frequently touched off social unrest.

The government document outlines programs for environmental protection with targets set 15 years in advance.

This document contains concrete measures that will transform the light rain of the past into a storm of environmental protection that will wipe out serious polluters.

Regions that are home to heavy polluters that exceed required standards and cause serious damage will not be given the green light to start new projects that will strain nature still further.

The environmental watchdog's assessment will play a greater role in the procedure, according to the document.

The SEPA has also been given the power to suspend or even end production at enterprises that continue to discharge pollutants after being warned.

This will drag the environmental watchdogs at various levels out of their current embarrassing situation with their notices often being ridiculed as irrelevant.

To crack the hard nut of local protectionism, which has constantly been cited as an umbrella for polluters, the State Council's decision lists achievements in environmental protection as one of the criteria for the promotion of government officials at various levels.

Provincial governors, ministers, mayors and county magistrates will be required to sign papers to shoulder due responsibility for environmental pollution. Regular assessment will be conducted and the results made public.

The decision also specifies that provinces in the upper reaches of rivers must compensate for economic and human losses they cause in the provinces located in the lower reaches.

These measures, if carried out to the letter, will exert pressure on officials that overemphasize economic development at the cost of the environment.

By the year 2010, regions and cities that have been seriously polluted will have seen their environment greatly improved and the deterioration of surroundings reversed, according to the targets set in the official document. In another five years, the country's environment in general will be improved to an extensive degree.

Even with these concrete measures mapped out by the decision, bumpy roads and uphill battles are ahead before the rosy picture painted by the decision is turned into reality.

(China Daily February 16, 2006)

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