The Ministry of Environment and Ecology released a guideline on May 28 urging local authorities to avoid a “one size fits all” approach in fighting pollution and to minimize negative impacts on people’s lives and production.
Central environmental inspection teams will visit 10 provincial regions including Hebei province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region to review the results of a nationwide environmental inspection that began in January 2016.
The inspection has brought major improvements in air quality nationwide. According to the ministry, 338 cities saw an average of 76.7 percent of days with good air quality in the first four months of 2018, an improvement of 0.9 percentage points year-on-year.
But the guideline warns local officials against disrupting all production activities merely to pass the review, especially in sectors prone to being shut down during inspections, such as construction and quarrying. It also called for antipollution measures that match local conditions.
Enterprises that have met environmental protection requirements should not be ordered to stop production during the review, the guideline said.
For polluting enterprises, corrective measures should be carried out on a case-by-case basis, but unlicensed polluting enterprises should be punished severely, it said.
The “one size fits all” approach has also been listed as an example of formalism and bureaucracy, and officials who insist on it can be held accountable, the guideline said.
Tackling pollution has been listed by the government as one of China’s “three tough battles” it needs to win in the next three years. Thousands of officials have been held accountable for poor performance in fighting pollution.
Ma Yong, deputy secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, said the administrative power of local governments should be regulated, along with the production processes of polluting enterprises, to avoid abuses of power.
“Inflexible approaches punish law-abiding enterprises along with unlicensed and polluting ones, which is unfair and has multiple negative effects,” Ma said, adding that it hurts the government’s credibility as well as the local economy.
Ma Jun, director of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, added that the guideline comes at the right time.
“As the review is to begin, some incapable local officials will again turn to simple and crude measures to get past the inspection, but that will not help to solve the root problem,” he said.
The guideline will help contain such abuse of power and reduce its influence over people’s lives and production, Ma Jun said.
He said it’s important for local governments to carry out punishments based on pollution monitoring data and to abide by laws and regulations that are already in place.
“Otherwise, it will shake people’s support for the antipollution campaign,” he said.