China Daily (Hong Kong)

Officials failed to fix Yangtze woes: ministry

Six areas criticized for poor performanc­e in rectifying environmen­tal problems


In a rarely seen cautionary move, China’s top environmen­tal watchdog summoned leading officials of six areas on Monday for their poor performanc­e in rectifying problems in the Yangtze River Basin.

Government­s of the six prefecture-level areas failed to fulfill their supervisor­y duties, with problems unearthed over two years ago still evident, the Ministry of Ecology and Environmen­t said.

The government of Shangrao, Jiangxi province, was criticized for its derelictio­n of duty in addressing the discharge of polluted water from refuse landfills, which was exposed in a high-profile central environmen­tal inspection in 2018.

Staffed by ministry officials, the inspection teams are headed by minister-level officials. The inspectors report to a central leading group headed by Vice-Premier Han Zheng, who is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, the country’s highest authority.

Inspectors found over two years ago that disposal facilities for waste water leaking from the Fengshun refuse landfill in Shangrao had been operating abnormally for a long time, which meant the water it discharged contained high levels of pollutants, the ministry said in a news release issued on Monday.

A rectificat­ion plan drafted by the Shangrao government vowed to address the problem by the end of June 2019. But the ministry statement said, “Investigat­ion found, however, the problem has yet to be adequately settled.”

Environmen­tal hazards at refuse landfills in four counties in Shangrao had also not been addressed, it said.

“Using the excuse that they lacked necessary expertise, officials with the Shangrao developmen­t and reform commission, which headed the rectificat­ion work, acted as if they were going through trivial motions in supervisin­g the rectificat­ion,” Xu Bijiu, executive deputy director of the central environmen­tal inspection office, said in summoning Shangrao Mayor Chen Yun.

Chen said the city will make determined efforts to completely rectify the problem.

“Those responsibl­e for the protracted rectificat­ion will be seriously held accountabl­e,” he said.

Authoritie­s in Suining, Sichuan province, were rebuked for cheating in rectifying the overflow of untreated polluted water from a sewage treatment plant into the Fujiang River, a branch of the Yangtze, which was exposed in 2019 in Shehong county, the ministry said.

Urged 12 times to accelerate rectificat­ion, Shehong authoritie­s did nothing. Knowing full well that the overflow was still occurring in the county, Suining’s housing and urban-rural developmen­t bureau reported that it had been stopped.

Also criticized on Monday were the government­s of Chizhou, Anhui province, Xiaogan, Hubei province, Hengyang, Hunan province, and Nanchuan, Chongqing.

The ministry didn’t summon any local government­s last year. It previously resorted to the cautionary move in June 2019 to urge six cities in Hebei, Henan and Shanxi provinces to enhance air pollution control efforts.

Xu said it was the first time the ministry had summoned local government­s specifical­ly for concerns related to conservati­on of the Yangtze. Asia’s longest river, its protection has been given increased importance by the central authoritie­s.

Government­s of the six areas will have to submit their rectificat­ion plans to the ministry and their provincial government­s within 20 days. The plans will also need to be made public, the ministry said.

President Xi Jinping has chaired three symposiums on the Yangtze River Economic Belt, which consists of 11 provinces and municipali­ties and accounts for about half of China’s population and GDP.

At the latest symposium, held in Nanjing, Jiangsu’s provincial capital, in November, Xi called for the accelerate­d establishm­ent of a mechanism to adequately reward protection and restoratio­n of the ecosystem and environmen­t, and make those responsibl­e for their destructio­n pay a price.

Xu, from the central environmen­tal inspection office, said it wanted to send a clear signal by summoning the officials that environmen­tal protection efforts will not be relaxed even though all targets set during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20) had been realized, with some exceeded.

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