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China to Centralize Environmental Protection to Prevent Local Cover-Ups

China's national environmental agency plans to establish a network of monitoring stations throughout the country. The move is aimed at preventing local officials from covering-up ecological disasters.

China's State Environmental Protection Administration is to establish 11 branches throughout the country that will operate directly under its supervision.

China's official Xinhua news agency Monday said the centralized monitoring would prevent "local government interference" in investigating and monitoring environmental issues.

Local officials often protect high-polluting enterprises that contribute to the local economy and have been caught covering up environmental disasters in the past.

Wen Bo, the China Program Director for U.S.-based environmental group, Pacific Environment, welcomes the plan and says China's national watchdog will do a much better job than the local authorities, which he says are often corrupt.

"If an enterprise bribes the director of the local environmental protection bureau, the director may allow a polluting enterprise to start operating or continue operations. But, [the national environmental protection administration] is independent of local interests," he said. "This is good for local environmental enforcement and this is good for establishing a mature monitoring system."

Five of the monitoring centers will be in major cities across China - Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Xi'an and Chengdu in the west and Shenyang in the northeast. They will investigate serious pollution cases, enforce environmental laws and handle environmental disputes.

Another six centers will monitor emergency work at civil and military nuclear facilities.

Xinhua said the Chinese government has been planning the nationwide network since November's massive chemical spill into the northeastern Songhua River.

Local officials tried to cover up the Songhua pollution, but were forced to come clean when the toxins threatened water supplies to millions in the nearby city of Harbin.