China's environment impact assessment (EIA) agencies will sever all connections with local governments by year-end to avoid conflicts of interest and help bolster the environment ministry's battle against rampant air, water and soil pollution.
Citing the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the official Xinhua news agency said late Thursday that 337 EIA agencies had already been de-coupled from local government or been disbanded. The remaining 13 will be detached this month.
Earlier this week, China punished nearly 700 officials for inadequately protecting the environment in the latest round of rolling inspections. The previous round led to more than 3,000 officials being disciplined and 198 million yuan ($29 million) in fines being handed out for environmental violations.
China's environment ministry was given authority earlier this year to investigate regions and enterprises without prior warning, and was empowered to summon any local government or company official to account for their actions.
China has been trying to strengthen its environmental powers as part of a "war on pollution" launched in 2014 to reverse the damage done by decades of untrammeled growth.
Xinhua said formerly government-affiliated EIA agencies had been ordered to terminate all connections with local government in 2015 to avoid corruption and conflict of interest. It added that China has a total of 984 EIA agencies and 19,700 EIA engineers.