China MEE to Redress Environmental Protection Overkill

The Chinese government has carried out a series of policies to improve the environmental quality in recent years, including the revision to the environmental protection law, the development of the environmental protection tax, the implementation of the pollutants emission permit system, the control measures on the VOCs emission, all of which have combined to drastically ameliorate China’s woeful environmental situation in a very short space of time. One of the most effective incentives for local administrations to take the environmental protection efforts seriously was that the environmental protection law designated the local government (instead of the local environmental protection bureau), as responsible for local environmental quality. This made it a rather important task for higher or senior officials to improve the environmental quality as their political careers were at stake. During the supervision and improvement of environmental quality, some government officials were anxious about their performances and took some unnecessary and extreme measures to reduce emissions and pollution. As a result, many local economies have been adversely impacted. For example, in Dec 2017, Kunshan government called a halt to the production activities of 270 enterprises in its administrative area. The government planned to suspend production for 15 days and then consider whether to extend the suspension based on the water quality after the production halt. This initiative was fiercely opposed by local industry. After emergency talks between the authorities and local enterprises, the production halt was cancelled. Similar situations have occurred across the country. On May 28th, 2018, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) issued a notice on its website, stating that local government mustn’t take unreasonable approaches in pursuit of pollution control. Specifically speaking:

  • For enterprises that comply with regulations and meet environmental protection requirements, local government shouldn’t ask them to stop manufacturing;
  • For enterprises that comply with regulations but don’t meet the environmental protection requirements, local government should require them to undertake rectification measures to address specific shortcomings, instead of stopping the whole production;
  • For enterprises that don’t comply with regulations and don’t meet the environmental protection requirements, local government should halt manufacturing and issue severe punishments.

MEE also emphasised the importance of information disclosure by local governments and encouraged public feedback. Government notices in China are best understood as a mechanism to allow authorities to clarify, refine and dynamically modify overarching laws and administrative and departmental rules based on practical impact and feedback. This latest notice is likely indicative that government feels it has gone too far in its environmental protection measures and wishes to take a step back before adversely impacting economic growth at a national level.

Chemlinked, 29 May 2018 ;

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