Central inspection uncovers environmental protection woes

By the end of 2019, local governments had settled about 10,000 environmental violations cases that the public reported to inspection teams, according to the teams' summary reports, which were released by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment over the weekend. 

A total of 1,594 officials from the provinces of Fujian, Hainan, Qinghai and Gansu and the Chongqing Municipality were summoned for environmental violations, and over 300 officials were held accountable for breaches, the report said. Meanwhile, fines totaling almost 1.8 billion yuan ($254.5 million) were imposed on 2,508 companies.

While lauding "major progress" in each of the regions in addressing environmental problems, the ministry said local governments' environmental protection efforts had still not met the central authority's requirements or the public's expectations.

The Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve in Qinghai Province. /VCG

The Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve in Qinghai Province. /VCG

Unlawful land reclamation

Some local governments and departments in Qinghai Province had "weak awareness of the rule of law," the summary report for the province said. Qinghai's Zeku County had even planned to build a refuse landfill in the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, the source of China's three great rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze River and the Lancang River.

However, Qinghai was not the only region with violations. From 2012 to 2019, the Quanzhou City government illegally reclaimed about 33 hectares of land from the sea in Anhai Bay, Fujian Province. The city government tried multiple times to legalize the project by amending local marine function zoning, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Hainan was again rebuked for rampant land reclamation, something exposed in the first round of the central inspection. Failing to adequately rectify the damage to about six hectares of mangrove forest in a key area of a reserve that was discovered the first inspection, a real estate project in Hainan's Chengmai County was found have reclaimed more land from sea to continue its construction.

A mangrove forest in Hainan Province. /VCG

A mangrove forest in Hainan Province. /VCG

Ongoing inspection boost environmental awareness

Launched in 2016, the first round of central inspection had covered all provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland by 2017. Inspection teams, all headed by ministerial-level officials, then revisited the regions in 2018 to see if the violations they found had been rectified.

According to the ministry, over 40,000 companies were cumulatively fined nearly 2.5 billion yuan for environmental violations in the first round of the inspection. Over 150,000 environmental problems were addressed, and 2,264 people were detained.

Zhai Qing, China's vice-minister of ecology and environment, said the central inspection had made a great contribution to promoting high-quality development.

The public can report environmental violations to local authorities via hotlines. This makes a thorough inspection possible while enhancing the communication and cooperation between the government and the public.

"Since the first round of the inspection, we have deeply felt that local governments' awareness of ecological and environmental protection has been increasingly strengthened," he said.

Eight inspection teams conducted the first round of central inspections launched last year. Five have already published their findings. The remaining three teams, which were sent to Shanghai and state-owned enterprises China Minmetals Corporation and Sinochem Group, will unveil their summary reports soon.

The latest round of inspections will eventually cover all of the Chinese mainland.

(With input from China Daily. Cover image via VCG.)

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