By Paul Davies and Andrew Westgate
Earlier this month, during a round of surprise inspections, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection Zhao Yangmin publicly shamed the city officials of Langfang, a city in Hebei province, for failing to take action after a severe pollution warning was issued on April 2, 2017. Deputy Minister Zhao also ordered a production halt at companies in Langfang which had failed to meet emissions control requirements or had submitted falsified emissions data, blaming “some local governments that do not take emergency response seriously.”
The inspection was part of a 28-city inspection campaign by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the largest the Ministry has ever undertaken. The inspections involve 5,600 inspectors and will run through March of 2018, focusing on the provinces surrounding Beijing and Tianjin, where some of China’s worst air pollution is found. Officials determined to be lax in their enforcement efforts could receive lower ratings in the personnel evaluation system used by the government; for serious offense, officials could be demoted, fired, or in some cases even subject to criminal charges.
“Name and shame” campaigns are a common strategy to combat a variety of social ills in China, and this latest campaign is not the first time it has been employed on the environmental front. In December of last year, for instance, 487 officials in Hebei province were publicly shamed and punished for enforcement failures.
How effective these campaigns are is unclear, however. After a similar campaign in 2013, environmental consultancy SynTao’s founder Guo Peiyuan observed that “Investors won’t really care [about] the environmental problems as long as the cost for violating the environmental laws are lower than abiding by them.” But many things have changed since 2013, including the passage of the new Environmental Protection Law in December of 2014, which provided for daily fines for emissions violations, increased transparency, and administrative and criminal penalties for government officials who fail to enforce environmental regulations. With the launch of this latest campaign, it is clear that China’s “war on pollution” is not over by any means.
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