China approves controversial chemical plant in new city

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s environment ministry has approved a petrochemical plant that drew fierce opposition over feared pollution in one eastern city, approving its construction several miles to the west.

Plans to build the paraxylene plant in Xiamen, Fujian province, faltered in 2007 after residents there mobilized a rare mass campaign over fears of toxins from the petrochemicals, used to make polyester and fabrics.

But now the Ministry of Environmental Protection had passed an environmental impact study to build the petrochemical complex in Zhangzhou, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Xiamen, the official China News Service reported on Tuesday.

The approval means the project, costing about 14 billion yuan ($2 billion), “may move to Zhangzhou,” the report said.

Officials in Zhangzhou would not comment about the report when contacted by Reuters. Calls to the Tenglong Aromatic Hydrocarbon Company, which the report said would build the plant, were not answered.

There were no reports of organized opposition in Zhangzhou.

Chinese citizens have grown increasingly vocal over the pollution and environmental blight that has accompanied the country’s frantic industrialization.

But officials and citizens are also eager to create jobs, especially with growth slowing sharply in recent months.

In June 2007, protests against the project spread in Xiamen by mobile phone text message, prompting environmental officials in Beijing to chide the local government for disregarding environmental impact assessment steps.

Residents said they feared the plant on the city edge would release toxins that would do lasting damage to health. Officials said the project was entirely safe.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie