Ordering halt in dam projects, China takes small steps to rein in polluters

February 03, 2005|By Ching-Ching Ni | Ching-Ching Ni,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BEIJING - A state environmental agency's order this week that operators of the giant Three Gorges Dam halt work on three new projects is part of a larger effort in China to rein in infrastructure ventures that fail to meet environmental standards.

Although it is not clear whether the State Environmental Protection Administration will prevail over the government-owned enterprise that runs the world's largest hydroelectric project, observers say the order is a sign that at least some officials are serious about cleaning up the environment.

However, the agency has limited options for enforcing its will if the enterprise continues to resist. The regulators would have to appeal to a local court, which might not be as tough on the nearby project.

The tussle started last month when the environmental agency suspended construction at 30 major projects it said were ignoring new laws requiring environmental impact studies be conducted before work begins.

Work was stopped on all but eight projects, including three being built by the China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Corp. One is the massive Xiluodu dam on the Jinsha River, a major tributary of the Yangtze River. The other two are auxiliary facilities connected to the Three Gorges Dam: an underground power station and a power supply station.

The environmental agency posted information about the offenders and appropriate laws on its Web site. The dispute was picked up by newspapers across the country.

The Three Gorges corporation is no stranger to controversy. Its massive dam project, begun in 1993, involved the relocation of more than a half-million people, drawing ire from environmental and human-rights groups at home and abroad. During the current run-in, the company told state media that it had followed the necessary laws in building its power stations.

If the company continues construction at the three sites, it could face a maximum of $24,000 in fines, a drop in the bucket for an enterprise whose projects run well into the billions.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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