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China punishes officials over environmental violations in Qilian Mountains

Updated: Jul 21,2017 10:03 AM     Xinhua

BEIJING — China has punished senior officials in Northwest China’s Gansu province over environmental violations in the Qilian Mountains national nature reserve, showing the country’s resolve for green development.

An inspection team has found various irregularities in the area, including over-exploitation of mineral resources, illegal construction and operation of hydropower facilities, excessive emissions by local enterprises, as well as the failure of local officials to rectify existing environmental issues, according to a document jointly released by the general offices of Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council on July 20.

Senior officials, including Yang Zixing, vice governor of Gansu province, were held accountable for their failure to prevent and look into the environmental issues, and have been urged to learn a lesson from the incident.

Provincial department heads and city officials were given warnings, while some were punished with administrative sanctions.

The violations were fundamentally a result of a lack of environmental awareness by local officials and their failure to implement environmental protection policies, the document said.

For example, despite a ban on the continued operation of a mine inside the nature reserve, the province’s safety watchdog approved its production capacity and renewed its operation.

Local officials also failed to realize the importance of a sustainable growth pattern, rolling out regulations that were not conducive to environmental protection.

Provincial officials as well as authorities at the nature reserve failed to undertake their duties or have been accused of malpractice, leaving many illegal projects unobstructed.

“Many management provisions at the nature reserve exist in name only,” the document said.

Environmental violations in the Qilian Mountains national nature reserve have been a long-standing issue. As a nature reserve standing on the border of Gansu and Qinghai provinces, Qilian Mountains was designated a national protected site in 1988, but hundreds of mines in the area, and many kinds of construction projects, have continued to take a toll on the environment.

Excessive and disorderly development since the 1960s had left the area in a deep crisis, with water sources contaminated and grassland degraded, until officials moved to tackle the environmental problems.

While some efforts have been made to rectify issues found in local inspections, the situation has barely improved.

From 2013 to 2016, Gansu province has basically held no one accountable for dereliction of duty or misconduct, according to the document. While many problems were found during inspections, local officials often just released documents to rectify the problems rather than actually dealing with them.

The decision on July 20 marked the latest efforts by Chinese authorities to shift to a green development model, vowing to rectify practices that boost economic growth at the cost of the environment.

More Chinese officials will face environmental impact audits of their work, according to a new reform endorsed at the 36th meeting of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform on June 26.

The regulation stated that if negative environmental impacts are found in the audit, they will be taken into consideration even after officials leave their posts, as such audits would affect future promotions.

The assessment includes both environment and ecological damage and the local consumption of natural resources, which must be supervised within official duty.

On July 20, the Ministry of Environmental Protection also announced plans to inspect environmental issues in 446 national nature reserves from July to December this year.

Dubbed “Green Shield 2017”, the inspections include comprehensive investigations into violations within the reserves and into rectification progress on existing issues.

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