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China is considering putting in place reforms that would remove caps on fines for firms that dump waste into water, a change that would put added pressure on polluters to change their ways.
Currently, China caps the amount that polluters can be fined for incidents. In some instances, the cap makes the fine lower than the cost of installing and operating remedial equipment. Therefore, once polluters max out on fines, there is nothing to make them stop.
State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) vice director of emissions control, Zhao Hualin, told the Guardian Unlimited that legal revisions to remove the cap will be submitted to top lawmakers on Sunday.
China's leaders have been increasingly interested in the pollution problems in the country after an 80-km (50-mile) benzene slick in the Songhua River in late 2005 endangered drinking water supplies to millions in both China and Russia.
Presently, China's governmental structure gives SEPA little authority over well-connected companies or local governments that want to boost the economy in their region.
The Guardian Unlimited reports that SEPA recently set up five regional bureaus, each with dozens of staffers, that allows it to extend authority into the provinces. However, its provincial offices are still subordinate to their local provincial government, which limits their power to enforce rulings that might be opposing to local interests.
According to the Guardian Unlimited, as many as 80% of enterprises in China's industrial northeast may have non-compliant emissions equipment, while nationwide, that figure is probably at least one-half.