El­e­men­tal flaw in air checks

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - — GMW.CN

Three teams re­cently dis­patched by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion to in­spect the lo­cal air pol­lu­tion pre­ven­tion and treat­ment ef­forts in He­bei and He­nan prov­inces and Bei­jing en­coun­tered ob­struc­tions and re­sis­tance. Some in­spec­tion per­son­nel in Cangzhou, He­bei, were even “de­tained” 80 min­utes by fake po­lice, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports.

There have been many in­ci­dences of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion teams en­coun­ter­ing such ob­struc­tion when car­ry­ing out in­spec­tions. Since the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in­spec­tion prac­tice was launched by the en­vi­ron­ment watch­dog, there have been fre­quent me­dia re­ports of con­fronta­tional ac­tions from pol­lut­ing en­ter­prises, par­tic­u­larly in North China, which is home to many pol­lut­ing en­ter­prises.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in­spec­tion teams work on be­half of the min­istry, but the in­spected en­ter­prises show no re­spect to these law en­forcers most of the time, and they even en­dan­ger their per­sonal safety. Such ob­struc­tion is so fierce that it has con­sid­er­ably raised the cost of law en­force­ment, and if not se­verely pun­ished, will un­der­mine the ef­fec­tive­ness of the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in­spec­tion work.

Some be­lieve the rea­son en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in­spec­tion teams have fre­quently en­coun­tered such ob­struc­tion is the au­thor­i­ties fail­ure to at­tach enough im­por­tance to the work and lack of co­op­er­a­tion from lo­cal gov­ern­ments. This is to some ex­tent true. How­ever, the fun­da­men­tal rea­son is that these teams are not given suf­fi­cient author­ity to pun­ish those they dis­cover vi­o­lat­ing the law. That also ex­plains why pol­lut­ing en­ter­prises are will­ing to ig­nore the in­spec­tors but will make quick rec­ti­fi­ca­tions of any prob­lems if their lo­cal gov­ern­ment in­ter­venes.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in­spec­tion teams also need to iden­tify any pos­si­ble dere­lic­tion of duty or mal­prac­tices by lo­cal gov­ern­ments, such as their blind pur­suit of eco­nomic growth at the cost of the en­vi­ron­ment. That may mean lo­cal gov­ern­ments and pol­lut­ing en­ter­prises have formed a “com­mu­nity of in­ter­ests”, adding to the dif­fi­cul­ties of en­forc­ing the law. In this sense, the ca­pa­bil­ity of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion in­spec­tions to ful­fill their pur­pose is more de­pen­dent on in­spec­tors be­ing au­tho­rized more power rather than pas­sive co­op­er­a­tion from lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

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