BEIJING -- China's top environment watchdog has fined the Jilin Petrochemical
Company, a subsidiary of PetroChina, the maximum 1 million yuan (125,000 U.S.
dollars), for seriously polluting the Songhua River.
explosion at the company's chemical plant in northeast China's Jilin Province in
November 2005 dumped about 100 tons of waste containing benzene into the nearby
The incident forced cities along the river, including Harbin, capital of
northeastern Heilongjiang Province downstream, to cut water supplies to 3.8
million people for several days.
Under Chinese law, companies can only be fined a maximum of 1 million yuan
(125,000 U.S. dollars) for causing pollution.
The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) found the company
guilty of contravening the Environmental Protection Law and two articles of the
law on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution.
The incident triggered the resignation last year of China's former
environmental chief Xie Zhenhua.
As well 10 executives of PetroChina have received demerits on their personal
record, including Duan Wende, senior vice president PetroChina.
SEPA has rarely applied the heaviest penalty to companies that cause
pollution, Thursday's China Youth Daily reported.
Experts argued that the fine was inappropriately low considering the losses
caused by the incident.
Professor Wang Jin from the Peking University filed a lawsuit one month after
the incident, demanding compensation of 10 billion yuan (1.25 billion U.S.
dollars) from the company to restore the environment.
The case was not accepted by the court, but sparked discussions over who
should foot the bill for cleaning up the environment. The government spent huge
sums during the pollution crisis and on the clean-up.
It again highlighted an embarrassing situation for China's environmental
protection departments which are constrained by the current legal and policy
system, the newspaper said.
The Environmental Protection Law has not been changed since 1989. Many
complain it is too "soft" with fines that are too low and local environmental
watchdogs have few teeth.
Some companies find it is cheaper to pay a fine than it is to improve their
pollution controls, the report said.
In addition, companies can be fined only once for a particular pollution
incident in a certain period, prompting experts to call for a system under which
companies can be fined for each day they violate pollution laws.