Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 4 News List

PRC issues new plan on environment

CONTROLS Previously rewarded politically and financially for fostering economic growth, local officials will now oversee environmental protection


China announced a plan yesterday to combat widespread pollution and leave a better environment for future generations, citing the need to stave off possible social instability.

The plan, approved by the State Council, focuses on pollution controls and calls for the country to clean up heavily polluted regions and reverse degradation of water, air and land by 2010.

"The move is aimed at protecting the long-term interests of the Chinese nation and leaving a good living and development space for our offspring," according to an announcement published in state media yesterday.

The government has previously responded to environmental crises largely on a piecemeal basis. The plan announced yesterday appears to be a broader strategy in keeping with the government's newly stated emphasis on seeking sustainable development after years of breakneck growth.

Giving teeth to the move, the plan calls for environmental quality to be considered in assessing the performance of local officials -- until recently judged mainly on their success in promoting economic development.

Regional governments will be asked to set environmental targets and conduct regular evaluations, the announcement said.

"Leading officials and other relevant government officials will be punished for making wrong decisions that cause serious environmental accidents and for gravely obstructing environmental law enforcement," it said.

Government ministries have been ordered to adapt fiscal, tax, pricing, trade and technology policies to the new strategy, the announcement said.

The State Council said the plan was in part prompted by a toxic chemical spill along northeastern China's Songhua River in November that "stunned the nation and sounded an alarm about the country's worsening environment."

The environmental protection minister was dismissed following the disaster, which affected water supplies for millions of people living in both China and neighboring Russia.

Pollution, often linked to official corruption and incompetence, has also sparked a series of sometimes violent confrontations between authorities and rural residents.

"The issue of pollution has become a `blasting fuse' for social instability," said Zhou Shengxian (周生賢), director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, in comments on the plan posted yesterday on the agency's Web site.

Among the most urgent problems cited by Xinhua news agency were acid rain, pollution of the soil, organic pollutants, potential risks from nuclear facilities and a decline in biodiversity.

Most major rivers are polluted and acid rain has damaged more than one-third of China's land area, as well as neighboring countries, the Xinhua report noted.

Evidence of the negative effects of years of rapid industrialization, uncontrolled construction and widespread use of farm chemicals can be seen everywhere in China, from the biggest cities to the deep countryside.

Local authorities have tended not to enforce pollution controls, land use restrictions and other limits that might hurt land sales and tax revenues or discourage investors. Heavily polluting factories often either bribe officials to look the other way or pay cursory fines.

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