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Government orders impact reports to be put on Web after objections raised over projects
China's environmental protection agencies have been ordered to publish environmental impact assessment reports on their websites from Sept 1 to make the evaluations available to the public.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said it issued the order to better regulate environmental impact assessments, after recent incidents in which environmental issues triggered widespread objections.
"People are more sensitive to environmental issues now, because of an increase in pollution accidents, aggravating environmental risks, and the public's increasing awareness of environmental rights," Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian said on Wednesday.
"The move is to encourage more public participation in the process of environmental impact evaluation."
In the first half of this year, the ministry approved 125 projects — involving a total investment of 687.2 billion yuan ($108.2 billion) — and rejected or suspended 17 for failing to meet environmental standards.
"The projects that were approved are, after all, for the good of the public. It's necessary to listen to the voice of the people and communicate with them harmoniously," Zhou said.
According to Wang Chengdong, an administrative law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, government decision-making involves the well-being of a large group of people and it is normal that some residents will object, even vehemently.
The recent protest in Shifang, Sichuan province, against a molybdenum-copper project for fear of pollution "is indicative of a lack of communication between local government officials and residents, as well as negligence in gathering, giving feedback to and adopting public opinion when making major policy decisions", he said.
In response to the residents, the Shifang government called off the project in July.
"It is necessary to expand the public's participation in evaluating the environmental impact of projects," Zhou said.
But abandoning projects anytime there are objections is not an answer, he said.
"Economic development would suffer if all projects were suspended in response to objections," he said.
"You can't give up eating for fear of choking," Zhou said. "We should also properly deal with an environmental panic mentality in the public and prevent it from turning into a major social problem."
In response to the public's fear of the potential for pollution, environmental protection agencies should from the start disclose as much information on the impact assessment as possible, he said.
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