Dec. 02, 2023
The Environmental Protection Bureau Is Not a Pollution Bureau

The ZHEJIANG DEQING HAIJIU BATTERY CO, LTD was hailed as an “environmental model”: it had no record of environmental violations and had also passed the stringent ISO1400 environmental certification standards. Moreover, the company easily passed last year’s stock market pre-listing environmental inspection. However, local residents recently exposed the company for being the source of dangerously high blood lead levels. (May 15, "Beijing News")

After the event, the company apologized and said that the lead levels were caused by those workers who left the factory but didn’t take a bath and change their clothes. The implication is that the high blood lead levels have nothing to do with the enterprise itself. However, even if those workers left the factory without bathing and changing clothes, their actions could only impact their own family. This could not be the source of high blood lead levels in other people, let alone the source of water pollution in the canals. The company’s explanation is clearly absurd.

If we say the polluting enterprise was covering the truth to protect their own interests, regardless of how absurd it sounds, this is understandable. However, what we cannot understand is why the environmental protection departments helped the company cover up the truth. Since the company was founded, it had no record of environmental violations, and also passed the stringent ISO1400 environmental certification standards. What’s more, the company easily passed last year’s stock market pre-listing environmental inspection. Even less understandable are the survey results of the Zhejiang Environmental Science Research and Design Institute, which showed that all subjects (100% of groups, 100% of individuals) thought that the surrounding environment or situation was generally good ; no one felt that the status of the surrounding environment was not ideal.

Of course, when we say we cannot understand the situation, this is only in a “theoretical” context. In fact, situations in which the Environmental Protection Agency “assists” polluting enterprises, gives the green light to polluting enterprises, or acts as a “protection god” are already so common that they do not count as news.

Last year, a report was issued stating that the Fujian Environmental Protection exceeded its authority twice to approve projects for some illegal iron and steel enterprises, and there were even two versions of an Environmental Impact Assessment response document. This resulted in the

FujianLuoyuanBay—which was known for its blue waters full of fish and was called the "Hawaii of Fujian”—becoming a "sewage pool."

At the time, one newspaper asked, “How did the Environmental Protection Bureau turn into a pollution bureau?” This phenomenon of  “the Environmental Protection Bureau turning into pollution bureau" is now too numerous to be newsworthy.

The Environmental Protection Bureau turning into a "pollution bureau" has been a puzzling issue for many years. Some local governments just seek "development" but do not care about the environment. Officials pursue professional promotion, and leave after they achieve fame and fortune. Then in the context of "development crushes all," the environmental protection functions of the local Environmental Protection Bureau become obsolete.

And then there are, under the hidden rules of "cat and mouse", some local officials and environmental protection officers engaged in rent-seeking behaviour. The Economic Information Daily (Jingji Cankao Bao) reported that a leading industry member stated in an industry meeting that in his experience, the Environmental Impact Assessment process in China was primarily an issue of time and effort. That is, as long as the requisite amount of time and effort is spent, projects may be as large as industry desires.

One can imagine why some polluting enterprises can run smoothly, polluting the environment, while "never having an environmental record," passing the strict ISO14000 environmental certification, and passing the stock market pre-listing environmental inspection.

Why does the Environmental Impact Assessment lie, for example when it says “100% of the organizations and 100% of individuals polled think the status of the surrounding environment is good”? How can the Environmental Protection Bureau become a "pollution bureau"? Do the polluting enterprises "make efforts" to encourage this?

This problem of the “pollution protection bureau” is a result of many factors, including an often-criticized but strong development pattern; an unscientific assessment mechanism for official promotion; ubiquitous rent-seeking throughout the broader environment; a serious aymmetry between ecological authority and ecological rights, etc., We need to reflect upon not only the problems with this model, but also systemic issues.

Translator: Liang Tingting,Sun Li

Proofreader: Jessica Wilczak, Angela Merriam