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Supervisor of Office of Legislative Affairs Answers Reporters' Question on Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment of Plans
Premier Wen Jiabao of the State Council signed the State Council Decree on Aug. 17, 2009, releasing Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment of Plans (hereinafter referred to as Regulations). The Regulations will be put into effect as of Oct. 1, 2009. Recently, the supervisor of Office of Legislative Affairs, the State Council answered reporters' question on it.
Q: Why was there a need to develop the Regulations?
A:
China's environmental protection has achieved positive progress thanks to the high attention of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. However, along with economic development, the severe environmental situation has not fundamentally changed. Total discharge of key pollutants exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment. Many river sections running through cities are polluted. Serious air pollution is found in quite a few cities together with expansion of soil pollution, damage of natural ecosystems and degradation of ecosystem functions. These problems share similar traits in regional scale and river basins. The situation is attributed to many reasons with a major reason being lack of overall consideration of likely environmental impact caused in preparing and implementing plans for development of regions, river basins and natural resources and plans for industrial development. Absence of adequate environmental impact assessment of plans has led to environmental problems after the plans were carried out, which has affected balanced and sustainable development of the economy. Pollution accidents in the Taihu Lake and Songhua River also mirrored the severity of environmental problems and the significance of environmental protection on the whole.
To prevent and alleviate adverse environmental impact of such plans and prevent environmental pollution and ecological damage at source, the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment issued in 2002 provided regulations on environmental impact assessment of plans in a separate chapter, which played an important role in regulating and promoting environmental impact assessment of plans. However, implementation of the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment in these years showed some problems still exist in EIA of plans, which needs concrete regulations in the form of administrative legislation. The problems are as follows: First, some plans which should go through the procedure of EIA according to law are approved bypassing the procedure. So we need to have administrations responsible for planning and approval strengthen their sense of responsibility. Second, the regulations are not detailed enough regarding the procedure, content, legal basis and forms of EIA. This will affect the quality of EIA of plans and needs further information. Third, requirement on the review body of environmental impact statement of special plans, its content, procedure and force is not clear enough and there lacks effective restriction between development and approval of plans and review of EIA of plans. Fourth, countermeasures laid down in EIA of plans are not effectively implemented. Some restraint mechanisms like follow-up assessment and regional ban on projects should be improved. In a word, the Regulations bear significance and are quite requisite.
Q: What kind of plans needs to go through EIA?
A:
Identifying the plans that need to have EIA is the precondition of EIA of plans. Therefore, the Regulations provide that plans related to land use, development of region, river basins and sea areas and development and utilization (hereinafter referred to as comprehensive plans) and special plans for industry, agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, energy, water resources, transportation, urban development, tourism and natural resource development (hereinafter referred to as special plans) should go through EIA. The specific scope will be determined by MEP and related departments of the State Council and reported to the State Council for approval.
Approved by the State Council, the former State Administration of Environmental Protection issued Scope of Plans for Preparing Environmental Impact Statement (provisional) and Scope of Plans for Preparing Environmental Important Explanation (provisional) in July 2004. Currently, all the plans within the previously set scope should go through EIA.
Q: How to have EIA on plans?
A:
How to have EIA is the core of the Regulations. The Regulations stipulate that the organizations preparing the plans are to be accountable for environmental impact assessment. Requirements on the content, legal basis, forms of assessment and public participation are also provided.
First, in terms of the content of assessment, the Regulations require that analysis, estimation and assessment should be made on the overall impact of the plan on ecosystems of relevant regions, river basins and sea areas, its possible long-term impact on the environment and human health as well as the relations among possible economic, social and environmental benefits, immediate interest and the long-term interest.
Second, the Regulations require EIA of plans abide by related environmental standards, technical guidelines and specifications on environmental impact assessment. Technical guideline on EIA of plans was developed jointly by MEP and related departments of the State Council. The technical specification on EIA of plans was formulated by related departments of the State Council according to the technical guideline on EIA of plans.
Third, it is required that environmental impact explanations are needed for comprehensive plans and the guidance of special plans and environmental impact statement should be prepared for other special plans.
Finally, for special plans that may lead to adverse environmental impact and directly concern people's environmental rights and interests, opinions should be sought publicly from related organizations, experts and the public on environmental impact statement before the plans are submitted for approval. The to-be-reviewed environmental impact statements should include information on whether the opinions are adopted and the reason for that.
Q: How to review the environmental impact statements of special plans?
A:
Review of environmental impact statements of special plans is an important step to guarantee the quality of EIA. So the Regulations made requirement on the organization responsible for review, the content, procedures and force of review.
First, on the organization responsible for review, the Regulations provide that environmental impact statements of special plans to be approved by government agencies above city level should be reviewed by the review team organized by the competent environmental department of the city. For special plans to be approved by government agencies above provincial level, the review method of related environmental impact statements should be developed by MEP and related departments of the State Council.
Second, as for the content and procedure of review, the Regulations provide that review teams should make review of the following information including the basic materials and data of the statements, the assessment method, analysis, estimation and evaluation, countermeasures, public opinion and conclusions of the environmental impact assessment. Where major environmental issues are found in the plan, the review teams should put forward opinions voting down the statement. If the statements have big problems, review teams should suggest revision of the statement and a second review. The review result should be signed by more than three fourths the members.
Lastly, as for the force of review, the Regulations require the approving agency to take the conclusions of the statement and review result as an important basis for decision making. If the approving agency does not adopt the conclusions of the statement and the review result, it should give a written explanation for it and place it on file. Related organizations, experts and the public may apply for reference. 
Q: How to make follow-up assessment of EIA of plans after the plans have been implemented? 
A:
To spot the adverse environmental impact of plans timely after their implementation, the Regulations specify that the authority in charge of plan development shall conduct follow-up assessment after the implementation of plans that might have major impact on the environment. If a major adverse environmental impact is found, the authority should put forward rectification measures and report to the plan approval authority. If the competent environmental department finds any major adverse impact, it should also advance suggestions on improvement or revision of plans to the approval authority. The approval authority should organize review immediately and take measures to improve or revise the plan according to the review results.
Q: How to ensure full implementation of measures on EIA of plans?
A:
To ensure full implementation of the measures on EIA of plans, the Regulations introduced a system of regional ban on EIA, making regions where the plans are being carried out unqualified for EIA application for other construction projects leading to additional discharge of major pollutants if the total discharge has already exceeded the limit by national or local standard. The Regulations also set forth explicit legal liabilities for various delinquencies in the course of EIA of plans.

(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)

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