More than 3,100 government officials have been held to account for the poor implementation of pollution control measures, a problem uncovered in all seven provincial regions included in the latest round of environmental inspections by the central authorities.
Inspectors sent by the State Council, China’s Cabinet, have conducted monthlong reviews in Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing municipalities and in Gansu, Guangdong, Hubei and Shaanxi provinces since late November. The performance audits exposed more than 15,000 violations, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
All seven of the latest inspection reports, released between April 11 and April 14, featured the complaint that governments have not focused enough attention on the environment — a failure that has resulted in worsening air quality and water pollution in some areas.
Gansu province, for example, made plans in 2013 to control air pollution, but inspectors found that it had not fully implemented the measures or assessed the performance of city governments. Therefore, it failed to meet its air pollution reduction targets for 2014 and 2015.
Inspectors also found a lack of assessment in Beijing, saying that seven districts had failed to meet targets for 2014 and that the municipality did not release information or punish the officials responsible.
“Some leading officials admitted that pledges to prioritize environmental protection had been mere lip service,” the inspection report for Hubei province said.
Han Zheng, the Party chief of Shanghai, said the many violations exposed by inspectors showed that environmental protection awareness in his city was insufficient.
“We must recognize the vital importance of environmental protection and urgently address pollution,” Han said.
The latest round of inspections also found that water pollution has become a widespread challenge, with untreated sewage being directly discharged into rivers in many regions, including Beijing and Shanghai.
Among the government officials held accountable for poor performance, 30 percent were in Shaanxi province, where a number of coal-dependent projects — including power generation and some chemical plants — were found to be under construction in violation of central government restrictions. The provincial economic authority failed to reach its targets for reducing coal consumption for two years.
In the seven provincial-level regions examined, more than 4,600 officials were summoned to answer to the inspectors, while 265 people responsible for pollution were detained.
In total, more than 12,000 companies found to be violating pollution regulations were required to upgrade their equipment to reduce pollution or shut down. About half of those were in Guangdong, which has levied fines totaling 138 million yuan ($20 million) on polluting companies.
The seven regions were told to submit rectification plans to the State Council within 30 working days and to make the plans public.
The central environmental inspections began as a pilot in Hebei in January 2015. The first full round took place in 15 provinces last year. The remaining 15 provincial regions will be reviewed this year, with a new round of inspections expected to start this month.