Caixin
Jul 12, 2017 07:37 PM
ENVIRONMENT

Former Environmental Inspector Calls on Ministry Teams to Work With Businesses to Control Pollution

(Beijing) — Government environmental inspection teams should work with polluting businesses in northern China to find pragmatic solutions instead of ordering the businesses’ closure or slapping hefty fines because thousands of jobs are at stake, according to a former inspector.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has sent up to 5,600 inspectors to Beijing, Tianjin and 26 cities in central and northern Chinese provinces, including Hebei, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan since April.

The inspectors are tasked with enforcing water, air and soil protection regulations and laws. They usually order industrial polluters to upgrade their old technologies, issue fines or even order the closure of major violators.

“But if you order a small business worth 1 million yuan ($147,000) to spend 2 million yuan on updates to fight pollution or order its closure without taking into account of the workers’ livelihoods, such inspections wouldn’t work the way the government hopes,” said the former environmental inspector, who wished to remain anonymous.

Instead, inspectors should adopt a two-pronged approach of confronting polluters while also helping them with pragmatic solutions to reduce emissions or waste, he said.

Many businesses that are on the inspector’s radar are small manufacturers that have been licensed by local governments to operate, the source said. They have been allowed to operate for years although local regulators have known about their pollution problems, he added.

Their operations have been deemed “problematic” only after the central government intensified the clampdown on violators amid worsening pollution, the inspector said.

Northern China was choked by two serious bouts of smog last winter, triggering the highest government warning for foul air in dozens of northern cities, forcing schools to shut down and grounding hundreds of flights due to poor visibility.

Levels of air pollution as measured by the concentration of cancer-causing PM2.5 particles in the air, hasn’t fallen in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province in winter since 2015 despite government efforts to cut emissions by phasing out polluting industries in these areas and taking old clunkers off the roads.

Ten Chinese cities that have recorded the dirtiest air in 2016 are in northern China, including six in Hebei: the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang, plus Hengshui, Baoding, Xingtai, Handan and Tangshan.

Offering solutions instead of ordering closures or imposing crippling fines may also help reduce resistance to inspections.

Inspectors in 15 of the 28 cities targeted by the Environmental Protection Ministry have had their work interrupted by business owners or employees in 33 instances since April, government data shows.

Several enforcement officials, on an inspection tour at an industrial park in Qingxian county in Hebei’s Cangzhou city on July 5, were locked up for over an hour by security guards at the park who had pretended to be local police officers, according to the ministry.

The ministry didn’t say whether its inspectors were subjected to violence and only added the three guards have been detained pending a further investigation.

In April, a ministry team had their inspection warrants taken away in a scuffle with company employees at a machinery firm in Xingtai, according to an earlier statement from the ministry.

Under the 2015 Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law, companies face up to 200,000 yuan in fines for turning away inspectors, and an individual faces up to three years in prison if they are found to have used violence to intimidate an environmental inspector.

The general manager of an industrial boiler manufacturer in Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong, was detained for 10 days beginning on April 16 after several inspectors were locked up for more than an hour during an inspection at his factory.

Another former inspector from the ministry said that inspectors enforcing the law weren’t given enough resources including uniforms in some instances.

The Environmental Protection Ministry should work more closely with local police to offer better protection for inspectors, according to Zhang Yeqiao, a deputy head overseeing environmental protection inspection in central Hubei province, who was on an inspection tour in Shandong earlier this year.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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