Efforts to focus on how local authorities live up to promises and tackle the scourge of pollution
Environmental inspections by the central government have been given more power and increased importance, and will include all provinces, according to an environmental official.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection will be China’s second national authority, after the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, to have the power to send inspection teams and hold discussions with provincial leaders.
14 more provinces will be subject to central government inspection this year after a pilot mission was completed in heavily industrialized Hebei province, Liu Changgen, head of the National Environmental Protection Inspection Office, said in a web interview.
Plans for the follow-up inspections are awaiting approval from national authorities, so it is not yet clear when they will begin, according to sources close to the matter.
Findings from the Hebei inspection disclosed on May 11 showed many problems, ranging from rapid ecological degradation to ineffective reinforcement of laws and regulations.
Liu said the central-level inspectors held discussions with all top provincial officials during their monthlong mission to Hebei, which accounts for nearly 25 percent of the nation’s steel output and is among the most heavily polluted provinces.
Surrounding Beijing, Hebei had five of China’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution problems in the first quarter of this year, according to the Environment Ministry.
Liu said that during the inspection, his colleagues and he received more than 100 calls a day from Hebei residents telling them of local pollution problems.
He said the environmental protection inspection teams will prioritize efforts to review how local authorities have met their promises and solved problems the inspectors find.
Liu said the Environment Ministry has formed a talent pool of more than 120 people devoted to the inspections, and they will be sent randomly to targeted areas. Such inspections will cover all provincial areas every two years.
Zhang Xiaode, director of the Ecological Civilization Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said negligence by government officials over pollution problems could result in more harm to residents than that caused by corruption.
He said there has always been less enthusiasm about environmental protection at local, rather than central level, because many government officials are mainly assessed on the GDP growth rate of the area they serve.
“We need to set up a fundamental system to supervise environmental protection. But before this, central government inspections will help spur local authorities to devote more efforts to environmental protection,” he said.
Chang Jiwen, deputy director of the Institute for Resources and Environment Policies at the State Council Development Research Center, said the inspections in Hebei have been more effective than previous ones as they represented the authority of the central government and the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
However, Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, an NGO that monitors pollution problems in China, said the government inspections must be coupled with improved law enforcement and better involvement from the public.
“The central government inspections can reach the top local government leaders; that is why they are effective.”