The Ministry of Environmental Protection has issued a notice encouraging environmental protection departments of various levels to delegate the power of issuing environmental impact assessment reports to qualified organizations. Beijing News comments:
Environmental impact assessment reports are necessary for almost all infrastructure and construction projects, and they have undoubtedly become a hotbed of corruption, with some local environmental protection department officials or their superiors treating the reports as an excuse for seeking bribes from the contractors.
As many past cases show, as long as those applicants seeking the go-ahead of an environmental impact assessment report greased the right palms, a beautiful report would be issued, irrespective of a project's true environmental impact.
The practice has become so prevalent that some project contractors regard such bribes as a guarantee of environmental approval.
The proposed reform means that rather than being the issuers of environmental impact assessment reports, the local environmental protection departments will act as gatekeepers of the reports' quality, confirming the reports are issued by qualified companies or institutes and monitoring the process for any possible malpractices. Should any irregularities be discovered in the examination and approval of a project, those responsible will be held accountable and punished.
Under the proposed new system, the environmental protection authorities would conduct random inspections of the process, while being subject themselves to higher-level random inspections and put under public scrutiny. This transforms the previous two-player interaction between the contractors and local officials into a multiplayer game.
Hopefully, increasing the transparency and ending the money-power balance in the issuing of environmental impact assessment reports, which are currently largely done behind closed doors, can cast sunshine into the dark space which had been used for interest exchanges.
Decentralization of the environmental impact assessment approval process in this way, will make the local authorities more cautious about giving the green light to environmentally harmful projects.