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Government-backed NGO under pressure to act against China's largest coal miner

The All-China Environmental Federation can regain public trust by taking legal action against the polluting state-owned energy company Shenhua

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Waste water dumped in local rivers has caused major environmental and health problems (Image by Greenpeace)

The All-China Environmental Federation (ACEF), a government-backed NGO, is being urged to take legal action against the Shenhua group, one of China's largest energy companies and also a member of the ACEF.

A subsidiary of the Shenhua group in Inner Mongolia has reportedly been discharging industrial wastewater into the Yellow River, threatening the water supply of Baotou City. The extensive report by Greenpeace also revealed that excessive groundwater pumping by a Shenhua group plant has caused a local water source to dry up, causing 5,000 herders to leave their land.

Observers say ACEF has an excellent opportunity to regain public trust by taking action against one of its own members for polluting. The NGO has been accused of seeking to hold a monopoly on the use of environmental public interest litigation (PIL), which has been of particular concern given its close ties with the government. 

It is not the first time that this Shenhua subsidiary has been found violating environmental protection regulations. In January, it was ordered to cease operations and fined 100,000 Yuan for violating the “Treble Simultaneity” principle, which requires the facilities for managing and preventing pollution to be in place before a project is approved.

Shenhua’s activity would “evidently affect downstream water quality“, an unnamed source from the Yellow River Basin Water Resources Protection Bureau told the website 21st Century Business Herald, adding that the company’s discharging activity had not been sanctioned.

Locals believed that the Shenhua subsidiary was responsible for the shortage of agricultural water and the subsequent abandonment of farmland. They also suspect the discharged wastewater is somehow related to an outbreak of brucellosis (a highly infectious disease characterised by muscualr pain and sweating).

Li Gan, a lawyer and editor of the Public Interest Litigation website, said ACEF should file a public interest lawsuit against Shenhua’s polluting activity. “If the ACEF dare to take the initiative, it could, to a certain degree, reduce our distrust,” he said.

The distrust of the ACEF stems from a draft amendment to the current environmental protection law which allegedly authorises only the ACEF and its provincial branches to file environmental public interest lawsuits. The bill is currently receiving its second reading.

This potential legislative monopoly has led to fears of corruption and abuse of power. Half of the respondents in a recent online survey thought the new regulation on environmental public interest litigation was “unreasonable”. Nearly 80% of respondents worried about potential corruption, and another 27% doubted ACEF’s impartiality in cases involving its many members.

The ACEF currently has 255 corporation members, many of which have very problematic environmental records; its income from membership fee is also very high.

Zeng Xiaodong, the secretary general of the ACEF dismissed allegations that the organisation had been bought by polluting companies in a recent interview with Time Weekly. “Who says we take in polluters? If they are making this allegation, they should point out which polluters, where did they pollute and what kind of pollution did they make. We do not take in polluters,” said Zeng.

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匿名 | Anonymous

一个值得关注的话题

这是中国社会的一个典型现象,参与者变成了裁判者。每当糟糕的情况得不到有效改善时,只有一件事可以肯定——政府拥有的可以实现变革的权力落入恶人之手,受害者很难有足够的力量或权利去抵抗犯罪,更别说尽早实现“和谐社会”了。

An issue needs to pay attantion to

This is a classic social phenomenon in China, in which case players become referees. When bad situations can not be changed effectively, there is only one thing for sure— the power vested by the government to make the changes happen falls into the wrong hands, victims seldomly possess enough strength or legal right to fight against crimes, let alone a sooner coming of a 'harmonious society'.