Nation sets out cleaner strategy for environment assessments

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The Ministry of Environmental Protection has started to clean up its assessment procedures in an effort to stop new businesses being built that would cause pollution.

So far this year it has canceled the licenses of more than 100 agents that had the authority to assess and approve planned projects, a ministry statement said on Friday.

It has also turned down 17 projects, worth a total investment of 109.4 billion yuan ($17.6 billion), the statement said.

Environmental impact assessment is a requirement before a project begins and is regarded as one of the most effective ways to control pollution.

The ministry had received 226 qualification applications by July, while 215 existing ones went under review. Twenty-nine new applications were approved, but an additional 22 were rejected because information supplied for them was false, the ministry said.

It has also conducted a review of 311 agents from Tianjin, Guangdong and six other provinces this year, accounting for 27 percent of the national total.

So far, the ministry has finished its reviews in Tianjin and Shanxi province and has canceled the licenses of 30 agents.

The minister, Chen Jining, also highlighted violations and illegal arrangements between some agents and the businesses they were assessing. He promised in March that the eight agents under the ministry would become independent, reducing the chance of corruption.

Six of those agents have already delivered a plan to reform their working processes, one will follow them shortly, and one has lost its license to operate, the ministry said.

The agents under the environmental protection bureaus at provincial level will undergo the same reform procedure by the end of next year.

Based on tipoffs from the public and some companies, the ministry has inspected many more agents this year. It found 63 of them had violated regulations and conducted illegal deals. These agents have either lost their licenses or had their duties reduced.

Twenty-two engineers involved in assessments have received punishments-ranging from fines to losing their jobs. A further 1,000 engineers working in the assessment service industries have quit rather than face punishment, the ministry said.

In recent years, corruption has been exposed in some assessments.

“Some iron and steel companies have passed their assessments even though they emitted excessive pollutants, which proved that the assessments made by some agents were falsified,” said Chang Jiwen, a researcher on environmental policies at the Development Research Center of the State Council.

This behavior has discredited the authorities, he added.

For example, Zhenlong Power Technology Co, which produces storage batteries in Jiangxi province, passed its environmental impact assessment but in 2011 was found to be polluting underground water and damaging the health of people living nearby.

The ministry plans to build an online platform on its website this year to manage assessment information and make it more accessible to the public.

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