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China's environment inspection to spread nationwide

Xinhua, May 24, 2016 Adjust font size:

After 2,856 environmental concerns were discovered during a pilot environment inspection program in Hebei, one of China's most severely polluted provinces, the comprehensive inspection program will be rolled out nationwide.

According to environment authorities in Hebei, about 15 provincial regions will be inspected this year and the remainder next year.

It is the first time inspectors have been sent in the name of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, giving them unprecedented authority and power.

Dozens of high-level officials in Hebei are worried about their jobs after the province failed the pilot environment inspection.

The central environmental protection inspection group issued an unusually harsh report on malpractice in the province. During the inspection, 200 plants were shut down, 123 people were taken into custody and another 366 were held accountable.

Inspectors interviewed at least 26 provincial-level officials, including the governor of Hebei, a clear sign that the central leadership is taking a hard line on incompetence.

"In the past, environment inspections were like a slap in the face, but now it's like having a knife to the neck," said Li Zongkui, deputy general manager of the Jiajing Glass manufacturing company in Hebei.

The company was found to be emitting excessive emissions and was slapped with an operational suspension in February by the inspection team.

The company has spent 3.08 million yuan (about 500,000 U.S. dollars) on measures to meet environmental protection standards, according to Li, "And if we fail again, we will be ruined."

Previously, inspections were often ineffectual, and their resultant measures had little deterrent effect, according to many officials across the province.

As soon as inspectors left, profit-driven polluters -- after a silent nod from local politicians -- return to their old ways and continue to contaminate the air, water and land.

China has gone all-out to tackle environmental deterioration since 2014. The Environment Law, which came in force last year, allows authorities to impose unlimited fines on repeated polluters and file criminal charges.

However, enforcement at the local level has long been a weak point, due to opportunistic practice and the shirking of responsibility.

During the Hebei inspection, a township official and a district environment supervision staff were held accountable for not meeting the environment authority's requirement to cut off the water and electricity supply to a polluting enterprise.

"It was a warning to us that our working standards are not up to scratch," said Meng Qinghua, an environment official from Gaocheng District.

The pilot inspection shows the resolution of Chinese leadership when it speaks of preserving the "green mountains and clean water of beautiful China."

"It is like a storm and people are beginning to feel the waves," said Pei Peihua, vice mayor of Hebei's Shahe City, who is in charge of the city's environmental protection work. "I've already received calls from companies in other provinces regarding our experience of pollution control."

"I told them when it comes to environment problems, any opportunistic practice will result in irreversible consequences," he said.