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China to Confront Pollution

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BEIJING — China’s environmental watchdog made a rare decision this week to halt new projects for two top state-run oil companies after they failed to meet pollution targets.
Environmental groups welcomed the move, but as China grapples with the difficult balance of fueling continued economic growth and environmental protection, the move is just one small step.

China’s notoriously smoggy air and the environmental price it has paid for decades of fast economic growth has won the country much unwanted international attention. It is also a leading source of public discontent.

Increasingly, projects from coal-fired plants to petrochemical facilities have come under intense public scrutiny in China because of their feared environmental impact. In some cases, local officials have had to abandon the projects altogether following large public protests.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection’s decision this week was made in part because of the growing pressure from the public, analysts say. The strong message was not only directed at the companies the halt targeted – China National Petroleum Corp. and China Petrochemical Corp. or Sinopec Group.

“This is a warning to all state-owned enterprises that they must work hard to shoulder the social responsibility that they bear as a state-owned enterprise,” said Yang Fuqiang, with the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

The decision was also a response to public criticism that China’s environmental ministry is not doing enough to rein in polluters, Yang added.

“The move by the Ministry of Environmental Protection is an effort to use their actions to show that they have the resolve to strictly enforce the law,” said Yang.

(VOA Reporting-William Ide)

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