China Hits Back at Defiant Polluters
BEIJING -- China has frozen planned industrial projects in cities and regions across eight provinces and vowed to clean up its lakes after finding many factories blackening waterways in defiance of a crackdown on pollution.
The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) announced the suspensions after an inspection found companies and local officials defying pollution limits, the official government Web site (www.gov.cn) announced late on Wednesday.
Fifteen of 22 factories inspected in Baiyin city in the northwestern province of Gansu illegally dumped waste in the Yellow River. Two thirds of projects in an industry development zone near the province capital Lanzhou had not done environmental impact studies.
The environment agency separately promised fresh efforts to rescue lakes from pollution threatening drinking water.
Beset by growing public alarm about acrid air and toxic water, China has promised to cut major industrial pollutants by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010. But last year the country failed to meet the annual target.
About 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing dirty air and drinking polluted water, according to World Bank estimates.
On Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao chaired a meeting of the cabinet that warned "the present situation remains quite grim" and efforts to meet the pollution target faced "big difficulties," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
"Incessant outbreaks of pollution are having a severe impact on people's lives and there can be no dropping of our guard," the meeting warned, according to Xinhua.
Underscoring the reluctance of local governments to sacrifice growth to tighter standards, SEPA listed dozens of factories defying pollution rules and said it would punish the responsible local governments across eight provinces by suspending approvals for new projects for three months given for them to clean up.
In Wuhu city, Anhui province, 60 of 76 factories and plants checked had not undergone required pollution checks and many had secretly dumped waste, inspectors said.
The meeting chaired by Wen promised tougher measures against defiant officials and factories.
"At present we must in particular strengthen the rectification of unlawful pollution. Whenever it's discovered, it must be harshly punished and there can be no soft-handedness."
Pollution from factories, farms and homes has also been filling lakes with nutrients that have stoked damaging outbreaks of blue-green algae, and on Thursday the chief of SEPA, Zhou Shengxian, promised fresh efforts to give waterways a chance to "recuperate."
In late May, residents of Wuxi, an industrial centre in Jiangsu province with an urban population of some 2.3 million, had tap water cut off after nearby Taihu Lake was blanketed in putrid algae.
Zhou told a meeting that waste treatment plants around Taihu must be equipped to block nitrate and phosphate pollutants by June next year. Plants along other waterways must receive the upgrade by the end of 2010.
"The safety of drinking water for the public is seriously threatened and cleaning of lakes must be given more prominence," Zhou said in a speech issued on SEPA's Web site (www.sepa.gov.cn).