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Trans-regional environmental watchdog pressed to tackle pollution in and around Beijing

Updated

By Philippine News Agency

China is considering a pilot trans-regional environmental protection agency that realizes the same planning, standards, assessment, monitoring and law enforcement in Beijing and neighboring Tianjin Municipality and Hebei Province.

A woman wears a mask as she walks past a construction site as smog continues to choke Beijing on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. The official Xinhua News Agency reported this week that the environmental ministry had given out punishments after finding that more than 500 construction sites and enterprises, including metallurgy, agricultural chemical and steel plants, and 10,000 vehicles had breached pollution response plans. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) | Manila Bulletin

A woman wears a mask as she walks past a construction site as smog continues to choke Beijing on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) | Manila Bulletin

At a Tuesday meeting of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform, the issue of air pollution in the Chinese capital and its surrounding regions was raised, and a trans-regional watchdog under the direct guidance of the Ministry of Environmental Protection was proposed.

“Aspects of the environment such as water and atmosphere spread easily, and pollution and ecological damage usually stretch across administrative regions, which makes a trans-regional environmental agency indispensable,” said Chen Jining, minister of environmental protection.

“Weak law enforcement has long been a thorny problem in environmental protection in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, especially in less developed Hebei, where local protectionism always puts economic development first at the expense of environment,” said Sun Youhai, head of Tianjin University law school.

However, located in the same basin, polluting emission from one place inevitably drifts to others, as does waste water. But Beijing cannot hold polluters in Hebei or Tianjin responsible in the current system.

The ministry has already set up six environmental inspection centers across China to supervise and drive local environmental protection.

“The centers are basically soft coordination mechanisms. A trans-regional watchdog should be a strong executing agency that can approve, assess, examine and implement environmental programs by itself,” said Xia Guang, director of the Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy under the ministry.

Xia said by forcibly pressing local governments and companies to shoulder environmental protection responsibilities, and directly implementing national environmental protection programs at local basis, the agency could play a critical role in better executing state wills.

Trans-regional environmental agencies are a common practice in many parts of the world. Countries such as the United States, France, Japan and the Republic of Korea have similar agencies, according to Xia.

In the meantime, local government departments have also made some progress in joint environmental governance. In 2013, seven provinces and municipalities including Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei as well as eight central government departments formed a cooperative team to combat air pollution.

At the end of 2015, the three environmental agencies of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei pioneered a cooperation framework to target air, water and soil pollution in the region.

The governments of Beijing and Tianjin municipalities launched the first joint examination of vehicles that discharge excessively, at highway exits in December. An environmental protection standard regarding manufacturing, sales and use of building coatings and adhesives in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region will enter effect on September 1.

According to the latest data from the ministry, the 13 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region saw 23 days on average with “good” air quality (an average daily Air Quality Index of under 100) in April, up 16.5 percent year on year. (Xinhua)

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