Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Little More Fall-Out from Songhua River Spill?

China Daily ran an article last week that the State-owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) has been evaluating state-owned enterprises. (China Daily 8/23). Four received grades of D and two received a failing grade of E. The consequences of a poor performance evaluation could be not only cut in bonus and salary but also possible dismissal. China National Petroleum Corp. was among 4 companies that was downgraded because of safety or environmental violations, but it was not clear from the article what the actual grade of CNPC was.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

NPC Finds Little Progress on Pollution

Based on a 15 province inspection conducted in May, the NPC's Environment and Resources Protection Committee found that the pollution control efforts continue to lag. (SCMP 8/27) NPC Vice-Chairman Sheng Huaren pointed to fraud by local officials in reporting pollution figures and a failure to make pollution reduction a priority. " "Many firms report a lower figure for chromium waste for fear of being punished," said Sheng Huaren, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), on Saturday when briefing lawmakers on the report." For example, "A locality earlier reported that they had only 3,000 tons of chromium waste but raised the figure to 100,000 tons after they learned that the government would build reprocessing facilities for them instead of fining them, said Sheng." (Xinhua 8/26) Other issues are underfunded pollution control efforts.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Spill Cuts Of Water Supply to City in Shaanxi Province

A tanker truck spilled 25 tons of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) into a municipal reservoir for the city of Hancheng in Shaanxi province on Friday. (NY Times/AP 8/27). As a result the water supply for about 100,000 people in the city (total population about 400,000) was cut off for 2 days. After neutralizing with some 10 tons of hydrochloric acid, the water supply was restored on Sunday.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Two Ecological Indicators in China Worsen

Chemical oxygen demand in waste water rose overall by 4.2 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions increased by 5.8 percent, according to SEPA. (Xinhua 8/25)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Songhua Tributary Spill not as Bad as Feared

Now officials say that the slick is not as serious as was feared, probably because of the early intervention. (China Daily 8/25) . It turns out that the Changbaishan Jingxi Chemical Co. in Jilin dumped 10 tons of industrial waste into the Mangniu river. According to China Daily, the facility "has been ordered to stop production and culprits have been punished" . . . whatever that means. Maybe letters of self-criticism?

It's ironic (but not surprising, I suppose) that not even a year after the big benzene spill in Jilin, another company wilfully releases such a significant amount of toxic waste into the river. What happened to the "Environmental Storm" that SEPA has been pursuing? Seems to have been more of a gentle breeze . . .

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chemical Spill into Tributary of Songhua River

Xinhua News Agency ran a story reporting on a chemical spill into the Mangniu river, a tributary to the Songhua river. (Xinhua 8/23) The spill apparently occurred on Monday (8/21), and officials believe that it was due to an illegal discharge by the Changbaishan Jingxi Chemical Co. The tributary passes through the city of Jilin, which was the site of last November's big benzene spill. The major pollution component of the 5 kilometer long pollution slick seems to be Xylidine.

Unlike the benzene spill into the Songhua last year, official response to this spill appeared to be much better. Three dams were built, including 2 containing active charcoal to filter the chemicals. So far, none of the pollutants have been detected in the Songhua river.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Searching Chinese Language News Headlines

I recently heard about a website (http://search.adsotrans.com/) (in beta version) that allows the searching of Chinese language on-line news headlines. In essence, it allows a user to type some search terms in English, which are then translated and searched. The output is a a set of news story items whose titles are re-translated into English. I tried it out and it comes up with some useful items.

However, any user should be aware that it does not replace some fundamental Chinese reading ability since most of the translated titles are close to gibberish. However, there is probably enough there to allow one to determine whether certain key words appear or whether the article might be somewhat relevant.

Unfortunately, the website provides no information about the author's background or contact. So, user beware.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

SEPA Head Openly Cites Fraud as Contributing to Pollution in China

In an interview with Xinhua, Zhou Shengxian, the head of SEPA, openly blamed fraud in construction projects as being responsible China's serious pollution problems, including greater than expected pollution increases. (China Daily 8/21 and SCMP 8/21). Basically, projects are being approved by local and provincial governments without having met all necessary environmental requirements. Zhou said that "in some counties only 30 percent of the projects had been checked for pollution control compliance before they received construction licenses." (China Daily 8/21). And half of the firms fail to implement the required pollution control measures. (SCMP 8/21).

This seems remarkably outspoken, even in light of the push to gain greater control over pollution since the Songhua River spill. On the other hand, it also follows the public reprimand by prime minister Wen Jia Bao of provincial officials in Inner Mongolia for allowing the construction of power plants that were contrary to central government policies and that had explicitly been judged illegal on an earlier occasion. (Xinhua 8/17) Of course, what triggered the reprimand was not the illegal construction itself, which had been going on for some time, but rather a construction accident that killed 6 and injured 8 in July. Of course, only the "underlings" get prosecuted. The "upperlings", including provincials governors are asked to write self-criticism letters. These exercises in self-criticism would be really comical if they weren't coupled with "stern" warnings that everyone who disobeys central government edicts would be held accountable. And of course, circumstances that give rise to these consequences are incredibly serious.

One other observation. The provincial government pursued the construction project in order to secure needed energy supplies. Their pursuit of energy security (which is one of China's overall challenges in maintaining its economic growth) is in direct conflict with official policies to protect the environment.

By the way, SEPA is also establishing a brand-new advisory committee, called the State Environment Counsel Committee and the Science and Technology Committee for the State Environmental Protection Administration. (SCMP 8/21 and Xinhua 8/20)They will be staffed with 86 experts from academia and elsewhere.

Here are also links to stories on the same subject in the International Herald Tribune, 8/21 and 8/17.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New SEPA environmental controls

SEPA has been making announcements about additional efforts to strengthen pollution controls. One of them is to make pollution control a criterion in the evaluation of how successful officials are, presumably to be used for promotion purposes. (Xinhua 8/14) Another announcement called for the tightening of environmental standards as part of the 2006-2010 5-year plan. (Xinhua 8/18). These are, of course, announcements about intentions and future actions, which may or may not be borne out by actual government actions.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Yao Ming and Shark fin soup

A few days ago, the press conference of Houston Rocket's basketball player Yao Ming speaking out about shark fin soup. (Xinhua 8/2) He basically joined up with Wildaid and said that he would not eat it anymore because it leading to the unsustainable killing of sharks for their fins.

The New York Times is running an article about this and the potential controversy brewing. (NYT 8/13) Since shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, naturally there are some who disagree. And with any such endorsements, there'll be some controversy. But I am not sure why the NYT thinks it's so unusual. While it is uncommon for folks to speak out publicly and in high profile fashion about controversial issues, most environmental issues are not really that controversial anymore. Environmentalism is just about to become a mainstream cause, with a significant amount of environmental awareness at least among the younger folks, especially university students. I have also seen a number of television advertisements in China about endangered species featuring Jackie Chan, and if I recall correctly, 110 Olympic gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang, speaking out on endangered species trade, including their use in traditional Chinese medicines. Maybe, more people like shark fin soup . . .

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cheating and Academic Dishonesty

Cheating and academic dishonesty have proven to be really difficult issues to deal with in China. A female sophomore student at Shenyang Agricultural Univeristy in Shanghai just won a lawsuit reversing her expulsion for an admitted act of cheating on an English test. (China Daily 8/11) She apparently used her cell phone to get answers from a classmate. What's interesting about this is that the court did find that the cheating occurred but that the punishment was too harsh and not applied in accordance with university procedures.

I have heard of other instances like this before, when students were caught cheating, the university expelled them, and a court then reversed the decision. Of course, in the U.S., expulsion would be an automatic consequences and a court would rarely second-guess such decisions (or these cases would probably not get litigated).

It's ironic in some ways that the courts appear to be more sympathetic to students on such issues than to more serious human rights issues. Or maybe, these cases are won because they are less controversial and don't really raise serious challenges to government power.

Wildlife Auction Scuttled

Tomorrow was supposed to have been the first-ever auction at which the State Forestry Association would have sold permits to hunt various species, some of which are protected under Chinese law. However, after public protests, the auction has been postponed indefintely. (SCMP 8/12, Xinhua 8/12).

The news is interesting in showing some responsiveness to environmental concerns by the public. It'll be interesting to see whether the postponement is really a cancelation or truly just a postponement.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Separate Blog for Job Postings

I have created a separate blog, http://lawjobs.blogspot.com, to which I will be posting legal positions, internship openings, and other opportunities of interest to law students and lawyers. These matters have been cluttering up this blog, and I will no longer post such matters here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bad Batch of Antibiotics kills at least 9 in Anhui Province

A bad batch of an injectible antibiotic called Xinfu (clindamycin phosphate glucose) appears to have killed 13 people in China. (SCMP 8/10/2006). Inexplicably, the official government toll is 7 in the provinces Hunan, Sichuan, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, and Hubei provinces. (Xinhua 8/10). There have also been severe adverse reactions in more than 80 patients. (Xinhua 8/9). Of course, the government has denied any cover-up. The company responsible for the bad antibiotic, Anhui Huayuan Worldbest Biology Pharmacy Co, has been ordered by the State Food and Drug Administration to recall all of the products, but millions of units are outstanding.

The government's handling of this matter raises questions about how truthful and open about the extent of such emergencies and its own handling of them, similar to the handling of SARS a couple of years back and the cover-up of the Songhua river spill. The extent of such drug safety problems are not new. There have been serious incidents involving fake drugs as well as contaminated foods in the past.

What is particularly interesting, I think, is the parallel to the environmental area. There, the regulatory system has also badly failed the public. Yet, for both, drug safety and pollution control, the central government appears to have made significant statements of concern and sems to take the issue seriously. In fact, officials statements calling for more inspection and enforcement, as well as blaming the problems on "local protectionism" sounds awfully much like the rethoric on environmental matters. (Xinhua 8/9)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Job Posting 8/8: UNFCCC Legal Advisor Position

Please see http://unfccc.int/secretariat/employment/vacancies/items/1216.php

The application deadline is September 18, 2006.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Citizen Yang Blog availability

With the help of Lori of our IT Department, I have been revamping my personal website at Vermont Law School (http://www.vermontlaw.edu/faculty/tyang). It is still a work in progress, so some parts of the web have not been changed/updated, yet. However, on one of the web pages, the beginning of each of my Citizen Yang blog entry will be excerpted. Hopefully, this should make the blog accessible to folks in places where blogspot is blocked.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Fall-out from Trans-Pacific Air Pollution and Rabies Campaigns

An AP report last week that discussed the China's trans-Pacific contribution U.S. air pollution made for an angry reaction by a SEPA official. According to EPA estimates, on any given day, 25% to 33% of Los Angeles particulate matter air pollution originates from China. Li Xinmin, director of the Pollution Control Department of SEPA, said that such assertions were "irresponsible." (SCMP 8/4/2006 & Xinhua 8/4).

This little dispute is only the latest fall-out from issues of trans-Pacific air pollution. Last spring US EPA Administrator Steve Johnson, while on a visit to China, said that part of US mercury pollution originated from China. Chinese media took that to mean that the US was blaming China for its mercury pollution problems. Johnson had to do some mighty back-pedalling. The story went pretty much unreported in the US.

Also, in another demonstration of the ferocity of public "campaigns" in China - about 50,000 dogs were slaughtered in Yunnan province (in southern China) after 3 people died of rabies. (NY Times 8/2 and SCMP 8/4) According to the AP, dogs were taken from their owners, even while they were being walked, and beaten to death. After 5 days, only police and military dogs had been spared. In fact, the SCMP reported today also that Jining City in Shandong Province would engage in a similar extermination campaign since 16 people in the city have died of Rabies over the last 8 months. The city has about 500,000 dogs.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Job Posting 8/3: Ford Foundation Program Officer Position in Law & Rights, Beijing Office

For details, see http://www.fordfound.org/employment/jobdetail.cfm?id=128 . Deadline is 10/20/2006.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

SEPA Creates New Regional Offices

SEPA announced yesterday that they will open 11 new regional offices (including 6 offices focused on radiation safety). (Link to SEPA (Chinese) announcement, and Xinhua article.) At a minimum, there'll be better communication and information flow between provincial/local events and Beijing. But unless the creation of the regional offices comes with increased staffing, resources, and authority, it's not clear how much of a difference these changes will make in terms of regulatory implementation and enforcement.