The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Stuart Leavenworth, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BEIJING — China’s lawmakers approved sweeping new environmental protections this week amid mounting concerns over pollution poisoning the nation’s air, water and soil.

The amendments, approved Thursday by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, are the first revisions to China’s environmental protection law since it took effect in 1989, Chinese state media reported Friday.

Environmentalists inside and outside the world’s largest country are hopeful that the amendments will result in tougher fines against polluters, taking away the incentive many industries have to pay meager penalties instead of investing in cleaner technology.

“These amendments are a game changer,” Barbara Finamore, Asia program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote on the council’s Switchboard blog. She said the amendments “put powerful new tools into the hands of environmental officials and the public, providing a strong legal foundation to the ‘war on pollution’ declared last month by Premier Li Keqiang.”

Taking effect next Jan. 1, the new law eliminates China’s cap on environmental fines. The Xinhua news agency reported one example cited by lawmaker Xin Chunying on Thursday. Xin said a company currently faced a fine of only 10,000 yuan ($1,600) for ignoring the requirement to use an approved power generator that would cost 500,000 yuan, or $80,000. Under the new law, that would change.

The new law also modifies the evaluation system for government officials, ensuring that environmental protection is considered along with performance in meeting economic growth targets. It also would give nongovernmental organizations more ability to take legal action against polluters.

This last change could prove particularly significant, since citizens have been repeatedly blocked in using the courts to address damage caused by factories and power plants.

On April 11, the water supply for more than 2.4 million people in the city of Lanzhou, in northwest China’s Gansu province, was found to be contaminated with benzene, a chemical linked to cancer. When five citizens sued the local water company, accusing it of a cover-up, a court quickly dismissed the case. According to state media, the court ruled that “only agencies and organizations that are stipulated by the law” are allowed to file pollution-related lawsuits.

Hardly a day passes in China without the revelation of another large, looming environmental problem. Last week, the environmental ministry reported the results of a soil survey conducted from 2005 to 2013. It found that heavy metals and other pollutants contaminated 16.1 percent of China’s soil and nearly one-fifth of its arable land.

On Friday in Beijing, reports surfaced that batches of rice grown in Hunan province were contaminated with cadmium.

Air pollution continues to smother vast stretches of the country, particularly in the east and north. Already this year, Beijing has had six days when the air quality index — a measure of contaminants — topped 500, a level the U.S. Embassy once described in a tweet as “crazy bad.” In 2012, there were 12 such days. In 2008, there was only one.

Chinese authorities are increasingly concerned that deteriorating environmental conditions will stir social unrest and pose a threat to Communist Party rule. Earlier this month, hundreds of protesters clashed with police while demonstrating against a proposed petrochemical plant in the southern China city of Maoming, in Guangdong province.

While environmentalists are hopeful that the new laws will give them tools for reducing the pollution burden, even Chinese state media are cautioning against expecting too much.

“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,” Xinhua said in a commentary Friday. “China’s ecological problems are the result of decades of reckless pollution.”

Photo: akasped via Flickr

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and President Joe Biden during 2020 presidential debate

I look at September 2019 as a month where I missed something. We began with a trip to New York to do Seth Meyers’s and Dr. Oz’s shows. Why would we go on The Dr. Oz Show? For the same reason we had gone on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August: We could reach a vast audience that wasn’t paying attention to the standard political media. On Dr. Oz, Bernie could talk about Medicare for All and his own physical fitness. While at the time we believed Bernie was uncommonly healthy for his age, he was still 78. Questions would be raised related to his age, and we needed to begin building up the case that he was completely healthy and fit. It turned out to be a spectacular interview, ending with the two of them playing basketball on a makeshift court in the studio. Bernie appeared to be on top of the world.

Yet in retrospect, I should have seen Bernie growing more fatigued. After New York, with the school year starting, we did a series of rallies at colleges and universities in Iowa; this was the kickoff of our campus organizing program in the state. We would then fly to Colorado for a large rally in Denver before heading to Boulder to prep for the third debate, to take place in Houston on September 12. In Iowa, Bernie’s voice was a little hoarse. After the rally in Denver, he had completely blown it out. He sounded terrible.

Keep reading... Show less

Rep. James Clyburn

When I interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}