Environment Chief Targets Impact of Economic Stimulus
Zhou Shengxian, China’s minister of environmental protection, is concerned about the impact that China’s 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus plan is having on the country’s already fragile environment. In the drive to maintain economic growth by any means necessary, the worry is that the environment will once again take a backseat.
“It is a disgraceful lifestyle to drive a BMW but have only dirty water to drink,” Zhou told the China Daily.
So, in what the China Daily describes as “all-out warfare,” environmental officials have been visiting dozens of cities across China and turning up problems related to the stimulus plan, much of which is going into major infrastructure projects. Among the issues Zhou noted are a lack of environmental protection measures in the overall stimulus plan, new operations causing more environmental problems, and a slackening of corporate efforts at managing the environment. Zhou said his ministry would be keeping an eye on local governments and using his department’s power to review and approve new projects to guard against further degradation of the environment.
Since Beijing launched its stimulus plan in November, Zhou’s ministry has rejected 14 projects worth 104 billion yuan ($15 billion), the report says.
But it seems that most stimulus projects are likely to be eligible for fast-track environmental assessments, according to Zhou’s deputy, Zhang Lijun. At a news conference in Beijing, Zhang sought to offset concerns about the impact of the stimulus by pointing out that only infrastructure and public welfare projects would be able to obtain fast-tracked environmental reviews, according to the AP. But under the current stimulus plan, 37.5% of the Beijing’s funding is allocated to major infrastructure, while many other items - such as rural development, health care and post-earthquake reconstruction - can be classified as improving public welfare.
Zhang said that, to date, the environmental ministry had approved 365 stimulus-related projects and rejected or postponed 29, such as petrochemical plants, steel factories and coal-fueled power plants.
About 5% of the stimulus plan - 210 billion yuan ($31 billion) - has been allocated to environmental protection and improving energy efficiency, but Zhang said that only about 10% of that funding had been spent so far.