A Little More Fall-Out from Songhua River Spill?

China Daily ran an article last week that the State-owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) has been evaluating state-owned enterprises. (China Daily 8/23). Four received grades of D and two received a failing grade of E. The consequences of a poor performance evaluation could be not only cut in bonus and salary but also possible dismissal. China National Petroleum Corp. was among 4 companies that was downgraded because of safety or environmental violations, but it was not clear from the article what the actual grade of CNPC was.

NPC Finds Little Progress on Pollution

Based on a 15 province inspection conducted in May, the NPC’s Environment and Resources Protection Committee found that the pollution control efforts continue to lag. (SCMP 8/27) NPC Vice-Chairman Sheng Huaren pointed to fraud by local officials in reporting pollution figures and a failure to make pollution reduction a priority. ” “Many firms report a lower figure for chromium waste for fear of being punished,” said Sheng Huaren, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), on Saturday when briefing lawmakers on the report.” For example, “A locality earlier reported that they had only 3,000 tons of chromium waste but raised the figure to 100,000 tons after they learned that the government would build reprocessing facilities for them instead of fining them, said Sheng.” (Xinhua 8/26) Other issues are underfunded pollution control efforts.

Spill Cuts Of Water Supply to City in Shaanxi Province

A tanker truck spilled 25 tons of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) into a municipal reservoir for the city of Hancheng in Shaanxi province on Friday. (NY Times/AP 8/27). As a result the water supply for about 100,000 people in the city (total population about 400,000) was cut off for 2 days. After neutralizing with some 10 tons of hydrochloric acid, the water supply was restored on Sunday.

Songhua Tributary Spill not as Bad as Feared

Now officials say that the slick is not as serious as was feared, probably because of the early intervention. (China Daily 8/25) . It turns out that the Changbaishan Jingxi Chemical Co. in Jilin dumped 10 tons of industrial waste into the Mangniu river. According to China Daily, the facility “has been ordered to stop production and culprits have been punished” . . . whatever that means. Maybe letters of self-criticism?

It’s ironic (but not surprising, I suppose) that not even a year after the big benzene spill in Jilin, another company wilfully releases such a significant amount of toxic waste into the river. What happened to the “Environmental Storm” that SEPA has been pursuing? Seems to have been more of a gentle breeze . . .

Chemical Spill into Tributary of Songhua River

Xinhua News Agency ran a story reporting on a chemical spill into the Mangniu river, a tributary to the Songhua river. (Xinhua 8/23) The spill apparently occurred on Monday (8/21), and officials believe that it was due to an illegal discharge by the Changbaishan Jingxi Chemical Co. The tributary passes through the city of Jilin, which was the site of last November’s big benzene spill. The major pollution component of the 5 kilometer long pollution slick seems to be Xylidine.

Unlike the benzene spill into the Songhua last year, official response to this spill appeared to be much better. Three dams were built, including 2 containing active charcoal to filter the chemicals. So far, none of the pollutants have been detected in the Songhua river.

Searching Chinese Language News Headlines

I recently heard about a website (http://search.adsotrans.com/) (in beta version) that allows the searching of Chinese language on-line news headlines. In essence, it allows a user to type some search terms in English, which are then translated and searched. The output is a a set of news story items whose titles are re-translated into English. I tried it out and it comes up with some useful items.

However, any user should be aware that it does not replace some fundamental Chinese reading ability since most of the translated titles are close to gibberish. However, there is probably enough there to allow one to determine whether certain key words appear or whether the article might be somewhat relevant.

Unfortunately, the website provides no information about the author’s background or contact. So, user beware.

SEPA Head Openly Cites Fraud as Contributing to Pollution in China

In an interview with Xinhua, Zhou Shengxian, the head of SEPA, openly blamed fraud in construction projects as being responsible China’s serious pollution problems, including greater than expected pollution increases. (China Daily 8/21 and SCMP 8/21). Basically, projects are being approved by local and provincial governments without having met all necessary environmental requirements. Zhou said that “in some counties only 30 percent of the projects had been checked for pollution control compliance before they received construction licenses.” (China Daily 8/21). And half of the firms fail to implement the required pollution control measures. (SCMP 8/21).

This seems remarkably outspoken, even in light of the push to gain greater control over pollution since the Songhua River spill. On the other hand, it also follows the public reprimand by prime minister Wen Jia Bao of provincial officials in Inner Mongolia for allowing the construction of power plants that were contrary to central government policies and that had explicitly been judged illegal on an earlier occasion. (Xinhua 8/17) Of course, what triggered the reprimand was not the illegal construction itself, which had been going on for some time, but rather a construction accident that killed 6 and injured 8 in July. Of course, only the “underlings” get prosecuted. The “upperlings”, including provincials governors are asked to write self-criticism letters. These exercises in self-criticism would be really comical if they weren’t coupled with “stern” warnings that everyone who disobeys central government edicts would be held accountable. And of course, circumstances that give rise to these consequences are incredibly serious.

One other observation. The provincial government pursued the construction project in order to secure needed energy supplies. Their pursuit of energy security (which is one of China’s overall challenges in maintaining its economic growth) is in direct conflict with official policies to protect the environment.

By the way, SEPA is also establishing a brand-new advisory committee, called the State Environment Counsel Committee and the Science and Technology Committee for the State Environmental Protection Administration. (SCMP 8/21 and Xinhua 8/20)They will be staffed with 86 experts from academia and elsewhere.

Here are also links to stories on the same subject in the International Herald Tribune, 8/21 and 8/17.

New SEPA environmental controls

SEPA has been making announcements about additional efforts to strengthen pollution controls. One of them is to make pollution control a criterion in the evaluation of how successful officials are, presumably to be used for promotion purposes. (Xinhua 8/14) Another announcement called for the tightening of environmental standards as part of the 2006-2010 5-year plan. (Xinhua 8/18). These are, of course, announcements about intentions and future actions, which may or may not be borne out by actual government actions.

Yao Ming and Shark fin soup

A few days ago, the press conference of Houston Rocket’s basketball player Yao Ming speaking out about shark fin soup. (Xinhua 8/2) He basically joined up with Wildaid and said that he would not eat it anymore because it leading to the unsustainable killing of sharks for their fins.

The New York Times is running an article about this and the potential controversy brewing. (NYT 8/13) Since shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, naturally there are some who disagree. And with any such endorsements, there’ll be some controversy. But I am not sure why the NYT thinks it’s so unusual. While it is uncommon for folks to speak out publicly and in high profile fashion about controversial issues, most environmental issues are not really that controversial anymore. Environmentalism is just about to become a mainstream cause, with a significant amount of environmental awareness at least among the younger folks, especially university students. I have also seen a number of television advertisements in China about endangered species featuring Jackie Chan, and if I recall correctly, 110 Olympic gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang, speaking out on endangered species trade, including their use in traditional Chinese medicines. Maybe, more people like shark fin soup . . .