In the run-up to the Summer Olympics, Chinese officials pressed mines and factories near Beijing to shutter or move elsewhere in an effort to assure the event would be held under blue skies.
Now, as China rushes to invest nearly $600 billion of stimulus money and shake off a rare economic slowdown caused by the Great Economic Crisis, its skies seem destined to turn smoggy once again.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection has begun fast tracking hoards of industrial projects, almost completely trampling environmental reviews in the process.
In one 3-day period late last year for example, it green lighted 93 new projects worth $38 billion.
“This is the moment to decide whether we want to keep the old growth model or change it,” Ma Jun told the New York Times. “This new round of development might generate more pollution for the future,” understated the director of China’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
China’s brief industrial slump actually helped the country close in on environmental targets it had set years ago. Data from the second half of last year showed that China was on target to increase energy efficiency by 20% and to cut water and air pollution by 10% compared with 2005 levels
Meanwhile, the central government’s environmental movement, such as it is, remains plagued by bureaucracy, conflicts of interest and worse.
Take the strange case of Pan Yue. Pan had been the number 2 guy in China’s environment ministry and was by far the most outspoken green supporter within the Communist Party. For years he had led a rare public campaign against polluters and supported rigorous environmental inspections.
This angered provincial officials, state-owned companies and his current boss who eventually sidelined him, shook down his top aides and harassed his wife, according to people who confided in secrecy with the Times.
For the record, Pan chalked up his lower profile to an illness, and records show he had indeed been hospitalized for a time.
It’s not the first time Chinese party officials have wound up in the hospital after falling out of favor.