More than 1.58 million enterprises have been inspected under the new Environmental Protection Law that took effect at the start of 2015, toughening scrutiny on polluters and the procedures that allow them to exist.
Environmental authorities nationwide had punished 51,000 enterprises for excessive discharge of pollutants and identified 73,400 illegal projects by the end of November, according to the latest official statistics. The new law also targets local governments' responsibility for environmental protection.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) organized overhaul of government's environmental work in 33 cities in 2015, and 15 senior officials at city level were summoned to talks with ministry officials for weaknesses in environmental administration.
The ministry has restricted approvals for new projects in Beijing's Chaoyang District as well as parts of Tianjin, Hebei, Henan and Hubei as punishment for failures to meet environmental standards, according to the head of the MEP's environmental inspection bureau.
Officials may be demoted or sacked for concealing offenses, falsifying or failing to publicize environmental data, and not giving closure orders to polluting enterprises. Low penalties for polluting enterprises used to have little deterrent effect.
The new Environmental Protection Law attempts to correct this by stipulating fines accumulating on a daily basis for enterprises that fail to rectify violations. As of the end of November, environmental authorities had issued punishments in 611 cases under this provision, collecting 485 million yuan (74.5 million U.S. dollars) in fines, according to the MEP.
In 2,511 cases of violations, the polluters were told to reduce or suspend production. The environmental agencies also transferred 1,478 cases for investigation of suspected criminal offenses.
The ministry has vowed to subject all key enterprises at national and provincial levels to unannounced checks, and the public is invited to help by reporting suspected violations. Citizens can now blow the whistle on polluters through an official WeChat account, a situation which helped Beijingers file 30,014 such reports with their local environmental watchdog in 2015.
Still, there have been some claims of local governments failing to enforce the law. "Whether this new law will have a substantial effect on China's environmental protection and help solving the environmental woes hinges on authorities' will and capability to enforce it, as well as the awareness and participation of the public and enterprises," said Jia Feng, chief of the journal World Environment.