Elemental flaw in air checks
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.