'Officials should be held responsible for pollution'

(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-27 07:17

A senior environmental official has called on the legislature to amend its 17-year-old environmental law in order to make government officials accountable for pollution.

"The government's refusal or failure to fulfil its environmental responsibilities has seriously set back China's environmental protection efforts," said Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

Local government officials often avoid punishment for actions that result in serious pollution because the existing law on environmental protection primarily targets the behaviour of private citizens and organizations. The law's ability to restrict government behavior is limited.

"With insufficient laws, the government's responsibility for environmental protection has become a mere scrap of paper," Pan said ahead of the "two sessions", the annual meetings of China's top legislature and top political advisory body.

Environmental officials and the media regularly lambaste local authorities for environmental violations and have called for serious punishments for negligent officials.

To counter local protectionism, the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee has announced that environmental protection will be an important measure for assessing local officials' performance starting this year.

Pan said the environmental protection law should specify and emphasize the government's responsibility in environmental protection and impose harsher punishments.

He cited the case of lead poisoning in Gansu Province and arsenide pollution in Hunan Province last year, saying those accidents showed that "most of the environmental violations involved government bodies".

The lead poisoning case, which was discovered last April in Huixian County and was caused by a local factory, resulted in around 250 children under the age of 14 being hospitalized. Hundreds more were found to have an excessive amount of lead in their blood.

The other scare was caused by two factories in Yueyang in Hunan Province. The factories were releasing waste water with a high concentration of arsenide into the Xinqiang River, affecting the water supply of 80,000 residents in the lower reaches.


(China Daily 02/27/2007 page4)

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