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New environmental law needs thorough enforcement

Xinhua, April 29, 2014 Adjust font size:

It's only been a few days since revisions were made to China's environmental protection law, and already questions about how the law will be implemented are being asked.

After two years of debate, lawmakers on Thursday passed amendments to the law imposing tough penalties on polluters. The new rules might look like a strong arsenal for environmental bodies fight corruption and all that goes along with it, but now it is up to the law enforcers to turn preaching into practice.

Touted as the "toughest environmental law" in China's history, the legislation makes environmental protection the overriding priority of government, and promises to hit polluters hard. A system of accruing fines will punish offenders and polluters may face detention.

An ecological "red line" bans polluting industries from heavily polluted regions, and a new system will assess officials on their environmental record.

Public participation is another key feature with better public access to environment information along with public participation in supervision.

A country so ravaged by pollution needs to wage a war against it, and the new rules caused quite a stir on the front pages of almost every newspaper last week. Workshops with legislators, experts and journalists ran on Monday and Tuesday in Beijing.

As China struggles with reform, the environmental law might provide legal backing for building the "beautiful China" promised at the last Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress in 2012. Decades of economic development paying little heed to green concerns and a huge population have left China a serious headache. Threats to public health and sustainable development make the new law more pertinent than ever.

Compared to western countries which dealt with some environmental problems decades ago, China is under considerable pressure with synchronized efforts needed to address air, water and soil pollution all at the same time.

The situation is further complicated by huge numbers of people bringing equally huge problems in garbage management in both urban and rural areas.

Nearly 60 percent of monitored areas in China had "very poor" or "relatively poor" groundwater quality last year. About 16.1 percent of the country's soil is polluted. On April 11, more than 2.4 million people in Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu Province, were affected by tap water poisoned by benzene.

China's past growth-at-all-cost economic model has clearly taken its toll. Now, to turn the tide of pollution, ways must be found to strike a balance between the economy and the environment. On the one hand, the war against pollution must go on, while on the other, economic growth has to be kept at a reasonable level - after all, environmental protection itself needs financial support. In this sense, the new rules, coupling economic and social development to environmental protection, could not have come at a better time. That said, China's war against pollution will be a hard one to win without proper enforcement of the law. As vice minister for the environment Pan Yue put it, "A good environmental law only gets you halfway there. It needs to be implemented."

A transitioning China needs an environmental law that bites, and bites hard.

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