May 19, 2001
Environmental watchdogs in China who abuse their authority will be punished under a special regulation that took effect yesterday. The provisional form of the regulation, China’s first on disciplining dereliction of duty, was released yesterday by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and the Ministry of Supervision. The regulation aims to curb the frequent law violations by officials in environmental departments, mostly on the local level, and provides the guidelines for disciplining various wrongdoings. “It is an important step on law-based administration for the country’s environmental protection cause,” SEPA Vice-Minister Zhu Guangyao said. “For any non-actions, wrongdoings or law-violations occurring in environmental protection, we will not show any mercy and punish responsible people in line with the regulation.” Approving projects that have not passed environmental impact assessment (EIA); cutting or cancelling the fee for the collection of waste discharged against the rules; postponing or fabricating reports of environmental accidents, or trying to hide the truth, will all receive administrative punishment. “The regulation covers not only people working in environmental protection departments, but also staff members in enterprises who are responsible for environmental issues and dispatched by the government,” said Li Yufu, vice-minister of the Ministry of Supervision. “By cracking down on corruption and environmental destruction, we are correcting the wrong principle of pursuing fast economic growth by sacrificing environmental quality which is a principle held by some local officials.” SEPA will educate more than 3,000 field environmental supervisors nationwide on the new regulation. It also requires the local environmental protection bureaux to co-operate in investigating chronic cases. By punishing some environmental watchdogs that violate the rules, some chronic cases are expected to be resolved. “The provisional regulation is very helpful for SEPA to strengthen its supervision over its local branches,” said Zhang Jianyu, a visiting scholar at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University. “But currently SEPA is busy with handling highly frequent environmental accidents. It is hard for SEPA to spare more manpower and resources into pushing the regulation to every corner of the country.” Zhu said China’s environmental problems would be four or five times as bad 15 years from now if it continues in the current energy consumption and pollution trend.