AP reports this week the Chinese government reviewed plans for the creation of a cabinet ministry to hold the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). Officials believe this will give SEPA more authority. The plans are expected to be formally approved in March.
Under the plan, the agency would become the Ministry of Environment, said Hongjun Zhang, a former agency official and environmental law expert, and Lo Sze Ping of Greenpeace in Beijing.
Zhang said the staff could be increased from 200 people to 300 or 400, and that over time the body would be given more authority over local environmental bureaus, which tend to be beholden to local industries and politicians and often flout the rules.
Critics say this change will have little impact and regulations will likely continue to be ignored.
Even with new powers, the environmental watchdog is likely to face formidable opposition from local governments geared to ramping up economic growth and protecting factories that pay tax revenues.
Local environmental officials also will still answer to provincial or local governments, leaving the new ministry understaffed for the task policing the environment, activists said.