June 7, 2007 / 9:45 AM / 13 years ago

China calls on Xiamen to rethink chemical plant

BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese environmental official called on the southern city of Xiamen on Thursday to rethink its plans to build a chemical plant after the prospect caused thousands to march in protest.

Pan Yue, deputy head of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration, also admonished local officials for not taking seriously the importance of environmental assessments, which he said could head off such conflicts.

“We hope the Xiamen city government can consult on the plan and make appropriate adjustments and do its utmost to change the current juxtaposition of the industrial park and the neighborhood,” Pan said in a notice on the ministry’s Web site (www.sepa.gov.cn).

Thousands of protesters marched through the city last week, demanding the government scrap its plans to build the plant to make paraxylene (PX), a compound used in polyester and fabrics, denouncing it as a threat to Xiamen’s seaside environment.

The city had already said it would suspend construction and do another environmental assessment, but protesters demanded the government scrap the project altogether, something the Xiamen mayor said he would consider depending on the outcome of the impact study.

Pan said Xiamen had been dragging its feet on the new assessment and urged it to step up the process.

“Presently, several major incidents of environmental conflicts are because in city plans, environmental impact has not been appraised,” he said.

“Environmental assessment plans are a profound means to limit the environmental risk from the process of rapid industrialization and urbanization.”

Pan also cautioned that building chemical plants near residential neighborhoods could spur popular unrest, which China’s Communist leaders are at pains to avoid.

“Many localities and departments do not give sufficient importance to environmental impact assessment plans in city planning, which can cause chaos (and) inappropriate industrial structures ...,” he said.

Environmental pollution, a consequence of decades of unchecked economic growth in China, has led to demonstrations and riots around the country, from uproar over a battery plant in the eastern province of Zhejiang to a run on bottled water in the northeast after an explosion at a chemical plant poisoned tap water supplies.

Pan said local governments should consult with citizens, but appealed to residents to act calmly.

“We also hope public participation is according to law, rational and can form a healthy interaction with the government.”

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