China's top environmental agency is imposing tough new pollution rules. But experts say China's focus on economic growth means protecting the environment will be an uphill battle.
China's State Environmental Protection Administration this week said environmental accidents must be reported to officials within an hour and those officials must then investigate immediately.
Factories that do not comply with the new rules will face fines or closure and government officials could be dismissed for failing to report problems.
Wen Bo is China program director for the U.S. environmental organization Pacific Environment. He welcomed the new measures, but says the environment watchdog would need to strongly implement them if they are to be effective.
"Of course, the local governments want better economic development in their local areas," he said. "So, sometimes the local leaders do not pay enough attention to environmental damage caused by economic growth or they think future officials can solve these environmental problems. So, they will try to protect the development of enterprises."
The announcement coincides with public warnings to 11 high-polluting factories.
Environmental protection officials say the new reporting system will keep the public updated with the latest and accurate information.
Officials originally kept quiet about a November chemical spill in the northeastern Songhua River until it threatened the drinking water for millions of people. During the past few months there have been several industrial pollution accidents that have fouled the water or air in China.
Chinese media quotes a top environmental official as saying the government needs to be more open on pollution problems. The official said environmental protection issues are the least politically sensitive and the best area for experiments in socialist democracy and rule of law.