Polluters ignore environmental laws
While a nationwide blitz against polluting firms across the country is paying off, environmental inspectors are still finding it an uphill fight. They say local protectionism and less-than-stiff punishments for violating environmental laws and rules are major factors harbouring the country's polluters.
And violence against environmental inspectors has been noticeable in recent years. Each year, about indents in which inspectors are attacked occur, along with 4,000 occasions when inspectors encounter intentionally-made barriers.
The blitz, which started in April, is a joint move by six ministries, including the State Environmental Protection Administration, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Supervision.
It is the second year for the six to carry out such an action.
In recent years, complaints by the general public about environmental problems have been increasing by 20 per cent annually and the number of telephone complaints was up 330,000 last year, said Wang Jirong, State Environmental Protection Administration vice-minister, when triggering the blitz in late April.
According to Chen Shanrong, with the environment supervision and inspection bureau of the administration, 470,000 companies had been checked by the end of September.
About 23,000 cases involving environmental law violations have been filed, with more than 5,000 companies shut down, and 3,000 ordered to stop production.
Meanwhile, 4,500 companies have been required to make improvements within a limited period.
In addition, about 3,100 spotlighted environment issues, involving water, air and noise which affect the daily lives of the general public, have been especially noted so they can be effectively solved.
However, Chen said one-third of the issues have not been concluded. He called on governments at all levels to make sure that each of the cases has a solution.
During the inspection, it was also found that half of the existing sewage treatment plants in the country are not operating normally.
Mentioning the reasons for that, Chen said many plants do not have matching sewage collection systems.
Lu Xinyuan, head of the bureau, said similar actions against pollution companies can be traced back to 2001.
In the most recent four years, about 10,000 companies were shut down or ordered to stop production and take pollution treatment measures.
However, about 50 per cent of such companies just appear again, sometimes with even more serious pollution problems, he said.
For example, such small companies as cement, paper-making and coal-burning power plants, which use outdated techniques, consume large quantities of energy while result in serious pollution, cannot be phased out entirely.
And some big companies do not use their pollution-treatment facilities and choose to illegally discharge pollutants.
One of the reasons is that the fines environmental authorities levy on polluters is far less than the profit such companies earn.
Currently, the highest fine is 1 million yuan (US$120,000), for those who cause very serious pollution, such as a chemical fertilizer plant that caused pollution on the Tuojiang River in Southwest China's Sichuan Province in February and March.
The accident caused a economic losses of 300 million yuan (US$36 million).
Local protectionism is another contributor to the rampancy of pollution, Lu said.
Many projects that should not be approved are built just because of the support of local governments, who pursue economic growth without paying attention to environmental protection.
Lu suggested that the country grant environment authorities the right to stop approving projects and raise the maximum fine on polluters.
Speaking of inspectors being attacked, Lu said many companies just do not bear in mind environment laws and discharge pollutants by any means.
And some local governments do not punish attackers severely, making such attacks more rampant, he added.