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China's Environment Chief Says Fraud Adds to Increasing Environmental Pollution

China's top environmental protection official says fraud in assessing and monitoring pollution control is contributing to the country's rising pollution problems. Experts say corruption is widespread in China's local environmental protection bureaus, and a lack of independent monitoring is preventing regulations from being enforced.

Chinese state media are quoting the director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, Zhou Shengxian, as saying fraud is prevalent in the approval of industrial projects.

As a result, Zhou says, many projects have passed their environmental impact assessments without really fulfilling the necessary criteria.

The official Xinhua news agency on Monday quoted Zhou as saying that in some counties, only 30 percent of projects had been checked for pollution-control compliance before receiving construction licenses. He says even when plans do meet environmental standards, the required emission-control measures are often not implemented.

He also says nearly half of new coal-processing projects have failed to install desulfurization equipment.

Wen Bo, the China program director for Pacific Environment, a U.S.-based environmental organization, says the provincial branches of the environmental protection agency are not independent of local governments, and are in no position to question local government projects.

"The local branches, the local EPAs, are hired by local government, their salary is paid by local government. So the local EPA is part of the local government, where local government's priority is economic development," he explained.

Wen says most local environmental officials write reports designed to get construction projects approved, rather than worrying about their impact on the environment.

China officials have routinely emphasized economic growth at the expense of the environment. However, widespread air and water pollution, along with a series of large-scale industrial accidents, have prompted Beijing to question its development priorities.

Last week, Zhou, the environment chief, said the government's efforts to cut sulfur dioxide emissions and other air pollutants were failing. Last year, China emitted 25.5 tons of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain - the highest amount in the world.

Beijing has vowed to beef up its environmental protection standards, and punish those officials who fail to follow regulations.

The Environmental Projection Administration has announced it will establish a number of centrally controlled monitoring stations across the country, to prevent interference by local officials.