Owners forced to fund mine safety upgrading
Coal mine owners have been ordered to use some of their profits to urgently improve safety conditions. The demand issued yesterday by a senior State Council official comes after China's appalling work safety record in mines plunged new depths.
"The measure, part of the central government's policy package, will be implemented soon," he added.
The entire package will be announced soon by the State Council and Zhang refused to give further details on the measures but an industry insider said the government action is in response to three major accidents which killed nearly 450 miners over the past few months.
He said many had reservations about the effectiveness of the safety fund.
"This will only partly improve work safety," he said.
Nearly half of operating mines in China would be closed immediately in other countries because of the risk of lethal gases. But demand for coal is such that mine operators send workers in dangerous conditions regardless of the obvious dangers.
Last week, part of the State Council's safety efforts were unveiled. A ministerial-level administration to oversee workplace safety was set up and Vice-Governor of Liaoning Liu Fuguo, who used to be in charge of industry and work safety in the province, was suspended from his post.
In addition to the safety fund, coal mine owners are expected to pay into an ecological fund to pay for environmental damage caused by mining and coal burning.
"As far as I know, the State Council has approved the proposal," said Zhang Jianyu, the Beijing office head of the US-based non-governmental environmental organization Envi-ronmental Defense.
Zhang, widely involved in China's environmental policy consultations, told China Daily the government is considering charging coal producers an average 20 yuan (US$2.4) per ton of coal.
However, he said the charge of funds will push up the price of coal. "But the economic measures will create more favourable ecological outcomes," Zhang said.
He said it's an ideal way to ease the financial shortage facing the government in environmental and ecological protection and study in coal-rich regions.
"What's more, higher coal prices will force users to improve efficiency in energy consumption or find renewable ones to replace fossil fuels," said Zhang.
At yesterday's press conference, Zhang Guobao, also vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the government will continue its support in supporting investors from home and abroad to set up their business in the old industrial bases in Northeast China.
Being an established base of heavy industry, Northeast China has fallen behind in economic development in recent years.
With a total capital of 108.9 billion yuan (US$13 billion), the government has started 297 projects since 2003 to restructure and upgrade traditional industries in the region.
(China Daily 03/03/2005 page2)