The protest on Monday by residents opposed to the construction of a molybdenum copper plant in Shifang, Sichuan province, suggests that environmental concerns have become an important factor that requires serious consideration when planning industrial projects.
Residents fear the copper plant will have a detrimental impact on the environment and air quality.
However, the local government said the project had passed an environmental impact evaluation and it had solicited public opinion in advance. It said the plant would use state-of-the-art technology to prevent any discharge of pollutants.
There is nothing wrong with residents expressing their concerns about the risks to their health and the local environment. There are plenty of examples of industrial projects that increased the revenue of a local government but made people ill and destroyed the local environment.
It is obviously right for the local authorities to suspend construction until residents' doubts about the plant's environmental impact are dispelled. After all, even if the promised zero-discharge of pollutants was realized, local residents may still question industrial safety in the future.
True, residents' lack of scientific knowledge and excessive concern for the environment may prevent some worthwhile projects from being launched. But their growing awareness about environmental protection and the protection of their rights and interests is good for the country and the long-term healthy development of the economy.
When many local authorities place economic growth before people's health and environmental protection, such civil awareness plays an important role in checking the pursuit of GDP regardless of sustainability.
It also shows that local authorities need to respect the opinions of residents and exercise caution when making plans for industrial development.
It may take time and effort for the Shifang authorities to convince residents that the project is safe and will benefit the local economy. But more communication with residents will help build trust between the local authorities and residents, which will be beneficial for local governance in the long run.
(China Daily 07/04/2012 page8)