Of Tree-Hugging And Buttock-Shifting

Jiangxi province…is facing a difficult dilemma between economic development and environmental protection. In this dilemma, environmental regulators also face a problem – of which “buttock” to sit on.

The Songhua River disaster, last November, pointed to the conflicts of interests that cripple environmental regulators at the grass-roots. Top domestic publications gave bird’s eye glimpses of these cadres caught in the intersection between local and national lines of command (link). Almost a year later, this revealing account by the Legal Daily (Ê≥ïÂà∂Êó•Êä•) suggests that systemically, little has changed.

The story also underscores the pre-eminent status of the environmental regulator, SEPA (the State Environmental Protection Administration), as the media’s closest P.R. partner in government. In October, under the direction of the State Council, a half-dozen ad hoc teams representing eight different ministries fanned out across 12 provinces on a mission to troubleshoot new projects (link). Vice-ministers like Pan Yue, SEPA’s no-nonsense deputy, joined them. Seems the Legal Daily hitched a ride. SEPA made sure the paper got its angle on the issues.

Here’s a link to the story. A full translation follows.


Grassroots environmental protection agency chiefs say they answer to the law. But when something goes wrong, no one protects them and they answer to their superiors. They switch departments and go on serving as officials.

Why can’t environmental regulatory officials break out of a long-standing quagmire?

Editor’s note: Higher-level inspection organs find problems in a matter of minutes, but local environmental protection organs turn a blind eye, and even help polluting enterprises “play dumb.” Today from Ji’an, in Jiangxi province, we publish on a whole series environmental regulatory dilemmas that were discovered. By no means was it an isolated case. Development of the economy cannot come at the expense of the environment. In order to have fewer cases like that in Ji’an, the pace of improving the system should be picked up a notch.

By Legaldaily.com.cn reporter Shao Jianrong

Just as of the Zhejiang province Environmental Protection Bureau is handing out tickets penalizing local paper mills breaking the law, in Jiangxi province, along the banks of the Gan River in Ji’an city, papermaking enterprises from Zhejiang are getting off scot-free.

With regard to attracting business and investment and setting up industrial parks, one of the “Three Don’ts” raised by the provincial Party Committee and government of Jiangxi is, “Engaging in project that seriously pollute the environment is firmly prohibited.” But judging by the findings of an inspection conducted by seven departments of the State Council not long ago, evidently there is still a ways to go.

In the face of requirements and gaps in implementation, how can environmental regulators caught in the middle take their proper place? Regulators say it’s so very difficult.

Polluting enterprises on the river exacerbate regulatory risks
After passing vegetable plots and the houses of villagers, we arrive at the Futong Paper Mill, opened in Ji’an’s Xiajiang County by Zhu Hefa, who is from Fuyang city in Zhejiang. The factory is not large. Heaped upon the wet ground is the waste paper used to make new paper. Zhu Hefa, who came here to run the paper mill in 2000, says the factory is not operating today because yesterday its axle bearings broke. They worked all night to repair them, but they still have not been fixed.

To carry out its inspection, the special operations inspection team from the seven ministries of the State Council, led by the State Administration of Industry and Commmerce registration bureau vice-director Li Guoqing, needed only to move alongside the paper ladder built without any precautionary measures, and to clamber over to the sewage treatment tank. Even more dangerous than the ladder was the fact that right under sewage tank, the Gan River rolled along. And unexpectedly, there was not any enclosing wall around the tank.

Gazing down the sewage treatment tank, more than 10 meters high, we saw streamlets of sewage collecting on the riverbanks by the drain of the mill. Complaints about the from common people living on the perimeter had already reached the State Environmental Protection Administration, information from SEPA confirmed.

According to a relevant person in-charge from the Jiangxi provincial government, virtually all of the paper mills in Jiangxi are scattered along the Gan River. In Ji’an alone, along the river’s edge, there are more than twenty. That’s not all. More than 90 percent of these businesses come from Zhejiang province. All of these paper mills were lured here by the local government, a relevant person in-charge from Xiajiang County government inadvertently disclosed.

“The reason why all these paper mills are spread along the river is that paper mills need large amounts of water. This arrangement is just right to solve their water problems,” said a Jiangxi province official in-charge of accompanying the inspection. Li Guoqing expressed great concern about this. He believes that the paper mills clustered on the river banks of the Gan create a major threat to the drinking water supplies in Jiangxi.

Another member of the inspection team, State Environmental Protection Administration Division of Environmental Inspection vice-chief Yan Jingjun expressed the same concern. He told the reporter that pollution control techniques at the Futong Paper Mill were at the low end and the scale of production was on the low side. So regulating the environment, he said, entails a great degree of difficulty.

In fact, such problems were not restricted to Futong by far, the inspection team discovered. Xiong Shi Industrial Corporation, Ming Sheng Industrial Corporation, An Shun Paper Industry, Ltd. and many other waste paper mills were all like this.„ÄÄ

Just as the inspection team was investigating many paper mills in Ji’an from Zhejiang, the State Environmental Protection Administration issued a series of circulars from the Zhejiang provincial environment protection department. In these five notices, Zhejiang Huayuan Paper Industry, Ltd., Hangzhou Tongda Paper Industry, Ltd., Zhejiang Sun Family Paper Industry Group, Ltd., Hangzhou Zhong Yi Paper Industry, Ltd., and Hangzhou San Xing Paper Industry, Ltd., were punished for producing illegally [link].

Suspended foodstuffs factory’s waste water nearly 50 times the standard
“Once you really go and check, there’s not one where you can’t spot a problem.” [SEPA’s] Yan Jingjun’s words came true, unfortunately, at a foodstuffs factory in Ji’an.

This was a factory that specialized in making glutinous rice flour. On arriving at the plant, it was already dusk. Large trucks were parked inside the mill preparing to unload cargo. On the ground, waste water from washed rice flowed everywhere.

Yan Jingjun, expressionless, cut around the sewage, strode through the factory, and made straight for the water treatment tank outside the plant. Braving a stench that assailed the nostrils, he took a water sample to check whether the manufacturing equipment was overheated or not. Then he went back into the plant and mounted a two-metre high rice-washing sink. All of this took Yan Jingjun not more than ten-plus minutes. But within those ten-plus minutes, the inspection team seized upon pollution problems of this factory by the name of Xin Jun Shan Foodstuffs.

The water sample Yan Jingjun took underwent testing that same day. The results showed that in the waste water discharged by the Xin Jun Shan Foodstuffs Factory, the concentration of pollutants was 40.91 times the national standard.

According to what relevant authorities in Ji’an had said, back on September 22, the city passed down a decision to suspend production at the Xin Jun Shan Food Stuffs Factory, pending improvements. When the inspection team first mentioned they want to go to the Xin Jun Shan Food Stuffs Factory to have a look, their local entourage repeatedly stated that the firm was already suspended pending improvements.

Illegal “homegrown policies” still nettle Ji’an
To carry out inspections at the industrial park in Ji’an, one must apply first for permission from the given department leader in-charge at this level of government, and enter under the escort of someone from the industrial park management committee office. If inspections are made or fees are collected from enterprises within the industrial park without authorization, under ordinary circumstances, the local government will order a public review of the principal person in-charge of the organ making the inspections or collecting the fees. These two provisions come from the Ji’an city government’s February 2005 version of the “Ji’an City Industrial Park Implementation Measures on Fees Collection and Management Concessions” (hereafter referred to as the “implementation measures”).

In the presence of the Jiangxi and Ji’an governments, Yan Jingjun didn’t hide his views. In a meeting convened by the Ji’an city government to report back to the inspection team, he stated frankly that the implementation measures were a “homegrown policy” and should be annulled. In response, a Ji’an city government official in-charge asserted, “The document has been annulled already.”

Yet by the time the inspection team were leaving Jiangxi, the relevant departments of Ji’an had not presented any documents annulling the implementation measures.

At Futan Industrial Park in Ji’an, the inspection team discovered that under the protection of “homegrown policies”, Ji’an authorities could document environmental impact assessment procedures for just 19 of 44 industrial projects, or 43 percent.

In the face of dilemmas, regulators tight-lipped on difficulties
When it comes to attracting business and investment and setting up industrial parks, one of the “Three Don’ts” raised by the Party Committee and government of Jiangxi province is: “Engaging in project that seriously pollute the environment is firmly prohibited.” But judging by the actual findings of the inspection team, clearly there is still distance between that and reality. Jiangxi, which economically is still not developed, indeed is facing a difficult dilemma between economic development and environmental protection. In this dilemma, environmental regulators also face a problem – of which “buttock” to sit on. The ideas revealed by certain grass-roots environmental protection agency chiefs in Ji’an, when chatting with the reporter, proved just that.

These environmental protection agency chiefs said that locally, environmental regulators themselves face a dilemma: to hold themselves responsible to environmental protection laws, or to their superiors in government? “If you’re responsible to environmental protection laws, no one protects you when something goes wrong. If you’re responsible to government superiors, when something goes wrong, if it’s not a big deal, you switch departments and continue in your post.” They say that given this reality, they can only lean their buttocks toward the side of the local government.

One person in-charge of the Ji’an City Bureau of Industry and Commerce who was accompanying the inspection talked about his views of these environmental protection agency chiefs who find their troubles hard to discuss. He believes that “vertical management (ÂûÇÁõ¥ÁÆ°ÁêÜ) indeed can be effective”. As an example, he cited the industry and commerce departments and told the reporter, the local industry and commerce departments have been much better off since vertical management came in.”If it was truly meant to be for real, then we would dare to ignore the expressions on the faces of the local government. Even if it caused a falling out with them, as long as we didn’t have a problem in enforcing the law itself, then we would not be afraid.” He said, “The biggest advantage of vertical management is that the hiring and firing of our personal is not up to the local government. Because of this, when the local government is developing certain projects that it shouldn’t, it will have added considerations to take into account.”

This official said the same should be the case for environmental protection departments. If vertical management is put into practice, he said “the benefits of things you do are indeed greater. In areas that are still undeveloped like Jiangxi, in particular, economic development and environmental regulation may often come into conflict. Under such circumstances, environmental regulation really needs the state levels to solve certain problems, including problems with vertical management.”

“Jiangxi is the most backward province in eastern China. Total GDP is even lower than in Shanxi province. Currently, per capita GDP is only around one thousand U.S. dollars,” says Xu Suhui. In such an economic climate, economic development is a very arduous task.

Xu Suhui is one of only two delegates to the National People’s Congress in the entire environmental protection system. She’s also the director of the Jiangxi Province Environmental Protection Agency. She watches the contradictions between the economy and the environment in Jiangxi with her eyes, and is irritated in her heart.
“We must develop the economy while protecting the environment, and how to solve the contradiction? The government needs to thoroughly consider its macroeconomic policy-making. At present, however, the environmental protection departments have a hard time gaining access to decision makers,” said Xu Suhui.
“Environmental protection departments are even worse off than safety supervision departments. Each township in Jiangxi province has a full-time safety supervision official,” an official at a grass-roots environmental protection bureau told the reporter.

Xu Suhui said that, indeed, none of the township-level governments in Jiangxi province have environmental agencies. Who can be relied upon to regulate the large number of polluting enterprises in the township?
Back in 2003, as an NPC delegate, Xu Suhui proposed that “the environmental departments should be upgraded.” She believes that upgrading them is a prerequisite for them to participate in policymaking.

“In the face of the environmental regulatory quagmire, how should environmental protection departments break through encirclement. I’m afraid we need the government make up its mind to solve some practical problems,” said Wang Canfa, professor of law at the China University of Politics and Law. These practical problems comprise both the problems of upgrading environmental protection and of vertical management.

November 8, 2006, 1:50 AM