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Sepa Admits It Lacks Sway To Block Big Oil Refinery

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Mar 04, 2008 – SCMP

The country’s top environmental watchdog has admitted it lacks the power to block the construction of a massive oil refinery near Guangzhou, which experts say will exacerbate air pollution problems in the Pearl River Delta.

Yesterday’s remarks by State Environmental Protection Administration deputy director Pan Yue follow mounting public concern over the project’s impact.

The mainland’s largest joint venture, the US$5 billion Sinopec and Kuwait Petroleum Corporation project is located in Guangzhou’s Nansha district, about 40km from Yuen Long and Macau.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Mr Pan said more attention should be given to the environmental impact of the project, listed as a key development by the Guangzhou city government this year.

“Environmental factors should be thoroughly considered in the overall planning of any regions and industries,” he said. “However, the existing law does not make it mandatory to have an environmental assessment for the whole region before a specific project can be allowed to go ahead.”

Environmentalists have argued that the project, approved by the National Development and Reform Commission last year, should be halted pending the approval of environmental assessments for the whole Nansha industrial district by Sepa.

Fourteen Guangdong People’s Congress deputies submitted a motion last month asking the government to halt the project.

They said the project, situated in the heart of the Pearl River Delta, would inevitably aggravate air pollution in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai , Zhongshan , Dongguan , Hong Kong and Macau.

They cited concerns by mainland and Hong Kong environmentalists over pollution from the Nansha industrial district, and its effects on the air and marine environment in the region.

Villagers from the district were relocated in June and refinery construction was widely expected to start this summer, the Economic Observer newspaper reported.

The local government has insisted it can minimise possible environmental consequences on neighbouring cities.

Mr Pan said the Nansha refinery was just one of many large environmentally sensitive projects, most notably hydropower and petrochemical plants, that Sepa had failed to check due to the lack of legal support.

“The most important question we want to ask is whether environmental factors have ever been considered in authorities’ approval of large hydropower and urban development projects,” he said.

He refused to remark on the damming of the Nu (Salween) River in northwestern Yunnan , the longest undammed river in Southeast Asia. Final preparations have started for the construction of one of the 13 proposed dams despite a lack of Sepa approval.

On completion, the Nansha plant will be able to process up to 15 million tonnes of oil a year and produce 800,000 tonnes of ethylene, used to make plastic. It is scheduled to begin operation in 2010.

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