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UPDATED: May 27, 2013 NO. 22 MAY 30, 2013
Compensatory Restoration
China needs to reward local environmental protection efforts
By Li Li

Wang Fengchun from the Environment and Resources Protection Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, told China Youth Daily that because implementing ecological compensation touches upon complex interests, achieving any practical progress needs to overcome many difficulties. He predicted that the drafting of the regulation won't produce any breakthroughs in the short term.

"In China, investigation and punishment on pollution fall under the jurisdiction of the local government where the source is located. This becomes a roadblock to trans-regional pollution investigation as the government of a victimized province is not authorized to launch an investigation against a company in another province," said Xu Xuhai, a senior official of the Anhui Provincial Department of Environmental Protection. Xu said as the Law on Prevention and Control of Water Pollution has no specific binding provisions on compensation for trans-provincial pollution, neighboring provinces sharing the same river tend to sign agreements to specify their obligations in protecting waters.

Wang Jiaquan, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Hefei University of Technology in Anhui, suggests creating river basin-based law enforcement agencies hold the key to curbing trans-regional water pollution.

Such a plan was put into place on a trial basis on the Xin'an River in 2011 by the Central Government. The river, which originates in the city of Huangshan in Anhui, runs to Qiandao Lake in Zhejiang Province. The lake is a major source of drinking water for Zhejiang and acts as a strategic reservoir for the Yangtze River Delta. For many years, the Xin'an has been one of the cleanest rivers in China as Huangshan closed down all its paper, printing and cement plants, rejected potentially polluting investment programs and planted a large area of forests along the river.

Yu Zhigang, a senior official from the Zhejiang Provincial Department of Environmental Protection, told Zhejiang-based newspaper City Express that according to an agreement signed by the two provinces in 2012, if the water quality at the border of the two provinces improves three years later, Zhejiang will offer Anhui 100 million yuan ($16 million); otherwise Anhui would pay Zhejiang the same amount. The Central Government and local governments of Anhui and Zhejiang have also jointly established a fund on the protection of the Xin'an. Huangshan has been using money given by the Central Government to build garbage incineration plants in villages along the Xin'an to mitigate soil and water pollution.

Xin'an's water quality has been consistently excellent since the inception of the scheme. "Without such a scheme, the river would not be so well protected," said Lu Haining, environmental protection chief of Huangshan.

Opportunity loss

Changning County in Sichuan is located upstream of the Yangtze and boasts a part of the world's largest natural bamboo forest totaling 120 square km. The county's ecosystem has a significant bearing on water safety of downstream regions. In order to protect its environment, Changning has rejected many investment opportunities from high-pollution industries. The county also closed down its paper plant last year, which employed more than 1,000 people and sold 200 million yuan ($32 million) worth of products at its peak. Losing this plant undoubtedly inflicted severe economic pain on this scenic county.

Zeng Jian, Secretary of the Changning County Committee of Communist Party of China, said that after giving up certain industrial projects, Changning's three core economic indexes, GDP, fiscal revenue and industrial added value, have been falling for years. He said that although Changning boasted the best natural environment in the 10 counties under Yibin City, its fiscal revenue ranked the second lowest.

"We have not received a penny of ecological compensation from the downstream regions. Nobody is willing to compensate us for our sacrifice," Zeng said.

He believes that China urgently needs to accelerate legislation on ecological compensation. "We cannot totally rely on the initiatives of local governments to pay compensation. Instead, the Central Government should coordinate the transfer payments if necessary," said Zeng.

At the pilot program on protecting the Xin'an River, although the compensation mechanism has eased a scarcity of capital in Anhui, local officials also believe that their province deserves more.

Nie Haiping, head of the Bureau on Xin'an Basin Protection and Restoration in Huangshan, said that his city was not sufficiently compensated for its sacrifices. "The compensation should not only be directed at pollution treatment costs. It should also cover the cost of the development opportunities lost [by Anhui] in the process of protecting the environment," Nie said.

Email us at: lili@bjreview.com

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