BEIJING Feb 11 China's environmental watchdog
vetoed as many as 32 projects with a total investment of 118.4
billion yuan ($19.5 billion) last year as it stepped up efforts
to get tough on industrial polluters, a senior official said on
Zhai Qing, the vice-environment minister, told reporters his
ministry was working to improve its environmental assessment
capabilities and strengthen its powers to monitor and punish
"I think our ability to enforce and monitor is extremely
important... and since last year, we have been constantly trying
to strengthen our abilities," he added.
Beijing is under intense pressure to clean up its heavily
polluted air, water and soil in the face of mounting public
anger, but enforcement has been identified as one its biggest
challenges, with the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP)
struggling to find the clout to take on powerful industrial
interests and growth-obsessed local authorities.
Officials have acknowledged that the ministry's punitive
powers are limited. Fines are far lower than the cost of
compliance and many big companies are willing to pay up and
continue breaking the law.
The ministry is now hoping to extend its authority as
China's new leadership promises to abandon the crude pursuit of
economic growth. A new environmental law is likely to raise the
fines imposed on polluters, and sources say the ministry's
powers could be expanded further in a government shake-up
expected to take place in March.
Zhai said the ministry had made it a rule not to trust local
statistics. Officials are also making use of unmanned aircraft
and satellite technology to collect its own pollution data, and
its inspection teams were now working more closely with the
police to try to force companies to comply, he added.
Inspectors were also showing up unannounced at factories to
avoid being misled by company officials.
The ministry imposed "tough punishments" on the regions of
Guizhou, Henan and Inner Mongolia last year, and also suspended
environmental approvals for projects in six cities as a result
of violations, Zhai said.
($1 = 6.0593 Chinese yuan)
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)