Draft requires environmental reviews of govt policy

Updated: 2013-10-22 07:04

By Wu Wencong and Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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A new draft amendment to China's Environment Law that was presented to lawmakers on Monday would require local governments to carefully consider how their long-term development strategies affect the environment.

Currently, environmental impact reviews focus on individual projects, but no environmental restriction has been placed on overall development plans.

Experts said the amendment is a good step foward.

"It is important to assess the environmental impact of government policies and to evaluate how much impact a region can withstand to avoid any harm from government policies," said Chen Guoying, director of the Environmental Protection Bureau in Hebei province.

This is the third draft to the Environment Law. According to the draft, officials would be required to "consult with related parties and experts" if their policies may degrade the environment.

Jin Hua, a lawmaker of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said some government policies have led to large-scale, even irreversible, ecological damage.

"We have drawn a profound lesson from this. Arbitrary government decisions without taking the environment into consideration should never be allowed," she said.

Cao Mingde, an environmental law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said a review of government strategies is important because it can influence a generation. Reviews on a project-by-project basis may only affect a community, Cao added.

He said the government had considered including environmental impact assessments of government strategies in the Law on Appraising of Environmental Impact before it was passed in 2002.

"But the article was removed in the second reading due to strong objections from the government," Cao said.

In fact, he said that it is "still unlikely for the government to endorse environmental impact assessments of government strategies at the moment. It seems the legislature is settling for a compromise on the issue."

He added that the environment in China has suffered greatly from improper government policies, explaining that the smog in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei is a result of large investments in the steel industry.

While some experts are applauding the strategy review, others worry that it may be too difficult to apply.

"There have already been loads of rules and regulations concerning environmental impact assessments. The problem is that such rules and regulations have never been implemented strictly," said Zhao Zhangyuan, a former member of the ministry's environmental and engineering appraisal center.

Zhao said the environment can be improved if all existing rules and regulations are heeded.

Monday's draft also made environmental assessments of projects stricter. It holds both the environmental assessment firm and the company undertaking a project responsible if the report they deliver about a project is found to have faults.

Zhao approved of this clause and described the country's environmental impact assessment industry as "messy".

He suggested that government bodies responsible for overseeing the environment should also be held accountable if they approve of projects that later turn out to be major polluters.

Since taking office, President Xi Jinping has pledged to better protect the environment. He said during a group study session attended by senior Party officials in May that "those who make rash decisions regardless of the ecological environment, resulting in serious consequences, must be brought to account".

Last year, protests broke out in parts of the country to lash out against new industrial projects that were deemed risks to the environment and the community. Many of the protests showed a deep distrust of environmental impact assessments.