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Green law suspends US$billion schemes
By Qin Chuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-18 23:47

Projects worth billions of dollars were ordered to cease construction in China Tuesday for violating environmental law.

The Three Gorges underground power plant is among the list of projects which will be banned or halted for violating environmental law. The photo is taken on January 18, 2005. [newsphoto]
China's top environment watchdog Tuesday suspended 30 large projects across the country in an unprecedented move carried out because they had not been approved under the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment, which went in force in 2003.

The State Environmental Protection Administration claims the move demonstrates the central government's determination to stamp out economic growth at the cost of the environment.

The projects, in 13 provinces and municipalities, were mostly involved in generating electricity.

Construction of the projects started before their environmental impact assessment reports were approved, said Vice-Minister Pan yue of the administration.

"We want to warn firms that the environmental impact assessment cannot just be ignored," he said, although many appeared to simply ignore it when designing and building projects.

Zhu Xingxiang, head of the administration's department of environmental impact assessment, said the projects will have to wait until their reports are approved.

Any projects that do not qualify but could be improved will be ordered to before they resume construction.

Those considered beyond improvement will be completely cancelled, Zhu added.

In view of the law, the size of the investments was remarkable, Pan said.

One of the biggest, the Xiluodu hydropower plant in the area bordering Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, along the Jinsha River, a section of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, involved an investment of more than 44 billion yuan (US$5 billion).

The administration suggests government bodies punish all responsible for the violations, Pan said.

One expert in environmental impact assessment said the administration's move would implement the law better.

But he said the successful handling of the issue needed concerted efforts from local governments and relevant government bodies.

"Although the environment authorities are authorized by the law to suspend such projects, they don't really have the ability to actually stop them," he said.

Usually, construction must get the nod from local governments or government departments.

Environment authorities simply cannot stop offering loans to law-breaking firms, he added.

Pan said government bodies such as the Ministry of Supervision have promised to intervene if help was needed.

President of the non-government organization Global Village of Beijing Liao Xiaoyi said: "It is encouraging for us that the Chinese Government has taken such concrete action."

She said if companies do not pay attention to the assessment or other environmental duties, society as a whole will bear environmental losses.

To halt the 30 projects may affect the growth of the local economy, but it is beneficial in the long run, she said.

Pan attributed the enthusiastic pursuit of economic growth by local governments to the weak implementation of the law on the environment.

"Small energy-swallowing and polluting projects such as smelting and chemical plants, that are banned, are rampantly expanding in some regions, causing a lot of damage to the daily lives and health of local people," he said.

Some local environment authorities and assessment bodies are still not fulfilling their duties.

Public participation is not sufficient, Pan said. Environmental impact assessment in China is currently government-directed, but the government is unable to supervise so many projects.

"To assess single construction projects is not enough to comprehensively protect the environment and achieve a sustainable use of resources," Pan said.

Meanwhile, efforts will be made to push forward the development of the circular economy, which is considered to be the most energy and resource-efficient model.

Pan said public hearings and forums would be held so the public can participate more in environmental impact assessment.

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