Waste per­mits put a cap on pol­lut­ing com­pa­nies

Data col­lected for new sys­tem will help re­verse degra­da­tion to air, wa­ter and soil, ex­pert says

China Daily (USA) - - POLICY REVIEW - By HU YONGQI huy­ongqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Com­pa­nies and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions will soon need to ap­ply for a new gov­ern­ment-is­sued per­mit be­fore they can dis­charge pol­lu­tant waste, with re­stric­tions placed on how much they can emit.

The move, an­nounced as part of a pi­lot plan ap­proved by the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion last week, is seen as a vi­tal step in ef­forts to con­trol pol­lu­tion and im­prove air, wa­ter and soil qual­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to the plan, which runs to 2020, the per­mits will be manda­tory for in­dus­trial en­ter­prises, as well as some pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, which are fi­nanced by the State, have no rev­enue, and cover sec­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence, cul­ture, health and the me­dia.

En­ter­prises that ap­ply but fail to qual­ify for a per­mit will still be mon­i­tored by lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion au­thor­i­ties to pre­vent pol­lu­tion, the min­istry said.

China has wit­nessed rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment over the past three decades. Yet it has come at a price, as in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity has de­graded air, wa­ter and soil qual­ity na­tion­wide. In key ar­eas, such as the Bei­jing-Tian­jin-He­bei clus­ter, smog has be­come a ma­jor headache for res­i­dents and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

The new per­mit — which sets a ceil­ing on how much waste an en­ter­prise can dis­charge into the at­mos­phere or wa­ter­ways over a cer­tain pe­riod — is part of wider ef­forts by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to build a strict, in­te­grated sys­tem that con­trols pol­lu­tion na­tion­wide.

“Th­ese per­mits must be is­sued to all po­ten­tial pol­luters, that’s the first step,” said Song Guo­jun, di­rec­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy and Plan­ning In­sti­tute at Ren­min Univer­sity of China. “With­out this per­mis­sion, en­ter­prises can­not ac­cu­rately re­port their emis­sions, as the pre­vi­ous re­quire­ments were am­bigu­ous.”

China first in­tro­duced pol­lu­tant dis­charge per­mits in the late 1980s, but they were not com­pul­sory. Ac­cord­ing to the min­istry’s data, only about 240,000 en­ter­prises in 20 pro­vin­cial ar­eas ever re­ceived th­ese orig­i­nal per­mits.

A min­istry guide­line on in­tro­duc­ing the new uni­fied sys­tem was re­leased in Jan­uary. The doc­u­ment cov­ered the pro­cesses for ap­pli­ca­tion, ex­am­i­na­tion, ap­proval and man­age­ment, and said com­pa­nies will be re­quired to dis­close the vol­ume and location of all dis­charges as well as the types of pol­lu­tants re­leased.

The in­for­ma­tion should be pre­sented in a way that is easy for the pub­lic to un­der­stand, the doc­u­ment added.

This came af­ter the State Coun­cil, China’s cab­i­net, re­leased a plan in Novem­ber last year to es­tab­lish a na­tional plat­form in 2017 to man­age in­for­ma­tion re­lated to th­ese per­mits. By 2020, pol­lu­tant dis­charges in fixed lo­ca­tions must match the ex­act amount stip­u­lated on the com­pany’s per­mit, while the data plat­form must ef­fec­tively make en­ter­prises and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions ful­fill their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in pol­lu­tion con­trol, ac­cord­ing to the plan.

Au­thor­i­ties have not spec­i­fied the po­ten­tial pun­ish­ments for rule-break­ers, al­though high-pro­file en­vi­ron­men­tal in­spec­tions in re­cent years have re­sulted in com­pa­nies be­ing tem­po­rar­ily or per­ma­nently closed down for ex­ces­sive dis­charges or lax waste man­age­ment.

Shang­hai, one of the pi­lot ar­eas for the new sys­tem, is­sued its first per­mits in May to com­pa­nies in­volved in the power and pa­per­mak­ing in­dus­tries. Each was given a clear limit on how much waste they can re­lease dur­ing the rest of the 13th Five-Year Plan pe­riod, which ends in 2020.

Shi Min, the gen­eral man­ager of Waigao­qiao No 3 Power Plant, said be­ing one of the first to re­ceive the per­mit was an honor, but it also brought pres­sure. “Along with the per­mit we were given a 60-page ap­pendix that lists the types of pol­lu­tants and over­all amount that can be dis­charged by our plant each year,” he said.

Song at Ren­min Univer­sity said in­tro­duc­ing the new sys­tem will fun­da­men­tally change the dis­charge stan­dards and help im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment.

“The per­mit is the foun­da­tion for en­vi­ron­men­tal law en­force­ment, but also ev­i­dence of en­ter­prises’ com­pli­ance with laws and reg­u­la­tions,” he said. “It shows our en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment is mov­ing for­ward in a more pro­fes­sional way.

“In the past, we faced a dilemma: The air qual­ity was be­low stan­dard even though pol­lu­tion dis­charges were in line with the stan­dard. Now, if air qual­ity is be­low stan­dard, the reg­u­la­tions on pol­lu­tion dis­charges are re­vised to raise the stan­dard.”

Song said a more in­te­grated na­tional sys­tem will also elim­i­nate con­tra­dic­tions caused by par­al­lel reg­u­la­tions, while data col­lected for the per­mit will help in up­dat­ing dis­charge stan­dards, which in turn will im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment, such as air qual­ity.

Th­ese per­mits must be is­sued to all po­ten­tial pol­luters, that’s the first step.” Song Guo­jun, di­rec­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy and Plan­ning In­sti­tute at Ren­min Univer­sity of China

SHI YU / CHINA DAILY

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