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.