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Transitioning China needs tougher environmental law

2014-04-25 08:31 Xinhua Web Editor: qindexing

Revisions to the Environmental Protection Law adopted by senior Chinese legislators could not have come at a better time.

The Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC) on Thursday approved the most sweeping revisions to the law in 25 years, promising tougher penalties for polluters.

After two years of heated debate, the much-anticipated revision expanded the law to 70 articles from 47 in the previous version, enshrined environmental protection as the government's overriding priority, and included specific articles and provisions on tackling smog.

For a country mired in pollution amid mounting public anger over a deteriorating environment, strict implementation of the new law is more relevant than ever.

Before this week's NPC Standing Committee session, China's Environmental Protection Law had not been revised since it took effect in 1989.

Decades of rapid economic growth have taken their toll on the country's ecology, while disturbingly lenient penalties have indulged excessive environmental pollution.

A report issued in April showed that nearly 60 percent of monitored areas in China had "very poor" or "relatively poor" underground water quality last year.

Another report issued jointly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources on April 17 showed that about 16.1 percent of the country's soil is polluted.

Heavy smog that has frequently shrouded Beijing, Shanghai and other major Chinese cities is a more obvious cause for concern. And on April 11, more than 2.4 million people in Lanzhou of northwest China's Gansu Province, were affected by tap water that contained excessive levels of benzene.

The madness has to stop.

Pollution has been on the top of the Chinese government's agenda for years, but problems have persisted.

The new round of reforms aimed at steering the country to transform its growth pattern nevertheless offer a unique opportunity to address the issue.

By setting environmental protection as the country's basic policy, the new Environmental Protection Law represents a huge step forward in China's drive to build an ecological civilization.

Speaking during the annual parliamentary sessions in March this year, Premier Li Keqiang said China would "declare war" on pollution and pledged to fight it with the same determination the country battled poverty.

The new law -- which also called on citizens to adopt a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle and perform environmental protection duties while expanding the range of subjects of public interest litigation on environmental issues -- will definitely play an important role in this fight.

Meanwhile, though approval of the environmental law revisions is enough reason to rejoice, it would be simple-minded to believe that the new law will automatically solve all troubles overnight, since China's ecological problems are the result of decades of reckless pollution.

The new law has provided a powerful tool for authorities to take stronger punitive actions against pollution and ensure that information on environmental monitoring and impact assessments is made public.

But the real challenge lies in ensuring that the new law is implemented in full and in a consistent manner.

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