Push to Stimulate Economy Risks Further Environmental Damage in China

Thursday, April 23, 2009 10:29
Posted in category Policies and Regulations
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As the wheels of the global economy began to spin off, many began to ask what the implications for China’s environment would be.

It was only last year that we began to see real strides, strides that were due in large part to China’s success, and its ability to get choosy, but as the manufacturing sector slowed down and Beijing looked to catalyze industry, things began to change:

In the rush to invest $585 billion in stimulus spending and revive flagging industrial production, China has at least temporarily backpedaled on some environmental restraints imposed, though with limited impact, during the country’s long boom.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection, citing the urgency of fighting the downturn, adopted a new “green passage” policy that speeds approval of industrial projects. In one three-day stretch late last year, it gave the green light to 93 new investment plans valued at $38 billion.

Provincial environmental agencies quickly followed suit, cutting the allotted time limit to review environmental impact assessments from the maximum 60 days to as few as five days in one province.

It was of course somewhat expected that the EVA’s would be brushed aside in the 2nd and 3rd tier cities, as they were still trying to catch up on the growth their coastal conterparts had experienced, but what is sadly becoming evident is that this is process occuring at the highest levels:

Mr. Pan’s populist cachet exceeded his political clout, putting him at loggerheads with many chiefs of provinces, state companies and ministries, including his current boss, according to people with ties to Mr. Pan who declined to be identified while discussing internal government affairs.

These people said they did not have direct evidence that Mr. Pan was sidelined by rivals. But he was replaced last year as the public face of the ministry. In the fall, as the economic downturn worsened, party disciplinary inspectors detained two of his top aides and investigated Mr. Pan, and his wife, they said.

They said Mr. Pan and his wife had been cleared of wrongdoing. He has made more official appearances in the last month than in previous months, the ministry Web site shows. But he no longer holds key responsibilities for environmental reviews and cultural promotion, and people informed about his situation said it was unclear whether he would remain at the ministry.

A truly discouraging sign that things have taken several steps back, and I can only hope that it doesn’t take another Taihu Lake to cake over in algae before the environmental movement gets back on track.

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