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Ministry of Environmental Protection Establishes Three Departments to “perform their own duties”, Marking the Lean Regulation on Environment

    On March 3rd of 2016, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced its decision to establish three departments of environmental management, namely Department of Water, Air and Soil Environmental Management, following the approval of the competent central authorities, which marks a material step of Chinese environmental management to the systematic, scientific and lean deployment.

A major change will occur on the previous model of environmental management featuring “going about several tasks at a time.”

    On March 3rd of 2016, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced its decision to establish Department of Water, Air and Soil Environmental Management, following the approval of the competent central authorities. In the morning of that day, the Ministry of Environmental Protection held a ceremony for the formation of these three departments and appointed the relevant persons in charge.

    According to Mr. Wang Manchuan, the Secretary-General of China Society of Administrative Reform, “although the streamlining is the prevailing overall trend under the context of super-ministry reform, it is necessary to make an appropriate adjustment to meet the external environmental change and working requirements.”

  

    The Ministry of Environmental Protection expressed that “performing their own duties” will be enabled after the formation of Department of “Water, Air and Soil” Environmental Management. This further indicates that Chinese environmental management makes a material step to the systematic, scientific and lean deployment.

 

     Three “well-targeted” battles

    According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the competent central authorities approved on a partial adjustment of environmental protection departments in the last February, specifically the Department of Pollution Prevention and Control, Department of Total Pollutants Control will be replaced by Department of Water, Air and Soil Environmental Management.

    As Mr. Wang Manchuan interpreted, the new formation of Department of “Water, Air and Soil” Environmental Management will add to the strength and integrate the limited resources in a “well-targeted” manner; secondly, the alteration of the name of department implies that environmental policy is shifting from the pollution control to more emphasis on the improvement of environmental quality and the enhancement of comprehensive management capabilities.

    He further expressed, generally speaking, the provincial-level units will be adjusted with its counterparts after the adjustment of the ministerial-level departments. However, the local city-level or county-level may be more flexibly arranged due to the different local realities.

    The Air Pollution Control Action Plan (“10 Articles of Gas”) promulgated by the State Council in September of 2013 expressly states that the environmental regulation system under the national supervision, local supervision and in charge of each organization should be complete. The Water Pollution Control Action Plan (“10 Articles of Water”) promulgated last year also states, “the water environment management should be effectively strengthened”, “the environmental quality target management should be reinforced”.

    In the National Conference on Environmental Protection of 2016 held in this January 11th, Mr. Chen Jining, the Minister of Ministry of Environmental Protection said, “our adjustment of internal departments and the proposal for environmental monitoring system reform have been approved by State Commission Office of Public Sectors Reform. We are studying and drafting the “three decide” revised draft of the ministerial-level departments and the deployment of environmental monitoring system.

    Finally, Department of Water, Air and Soil Environmental Management is now declared to establish, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, this is a key measure which has been effectively taken to fulfill the requirements by the central government for the benefit of strengthening the ecological environmental protection and facilitating all core tasks oriented at the improvement of environmental quality.

    One expert of environmental protection said, the formation of Department of “Water, Air and Soil” Environmental Management marks a solid step for the restructuring of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which facilitates the better guidance and strengthening of environmental control and prepares well for the “three battles” of the prevention and control of “water, air and soil”.

 

    Mr. Chen Jining once expressed, during the period of “the 13th five-year plan”, the environmental protection should aim at improving the environmental quality, resolutely fighting the “three battles” of the prevention and control of “water, air and soil”, continuously raising the systematic, scientific, legal, marketing and information levels of environmental management, and accelerating the modernization of ecological environmental control system and capabilities.

 

  

  Why the Department of Pollution Prevention and Control and Sewage Control Department should be removed?

    In addition to the formation of Department of Water, Air and Soil Environmental Management, the Ministry of Environmental Protection will not keep Department of Pollution Prevention and Control, Department of Total Pollutants Control any longer.

    It is found that Total Water Pollutants Control Office and Total Air Pollutants Control Office are under Department of Total Pollutants Control; and Air and Noise Pollution Prevention and Control Office, Drinking Water Source Environmental Protection Office, Key River Basin Water Pollution Prevention and Control Office are under Department of Pollution Prevention and Control by referring to the original structural deployment of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The functions of these two departments indeed overlap.

    According to the media concerned, it is further understood that Department of Pollution Prevention and Control, Department of Total Pollutants Control will not be kept any longer, which just echoes with Mr. Chen Jining’s management philosophy.

    Previously, the Department of Pollution Prevention and Control was mainly responsible for the monitoring and management as well as the analysis of environmental situation with respect to the prevention and control of environmental pollution. The coverage of its responsibilities ranges from water, air, urban lands, noise, light, odor, solid wastes, chemicals, motor vehicles to marine pollution control, but “neither focused nor detailed”.

    Department of Total Pollutants Control mainly undertakes to implement the national target of Department of Total Pollutants Control. It is responsible for developing the total emissions control of major pollutants, pollutant discharge permits and environmental statistics policies, administrative regulations, departmental rules, regulations and norms, supervising the enforcement, and organizing the measurement and determination of the environmental capacity in key areas, resins and waters. But Mr. Chen Jining said, “the approach of total pollutants control, the coverage of pollutant types, the range of pollution sources and the extent of emission reduction are insufficient to support the holistic improvement of environmental quality.”

    The ideas of this year defined by the Ministry of Environmental Protection justify that the future environmental management with respect to the quality and total emissions should reflect the following principles: the improvement of quality is the red line of rigid requirement and no touch on this line is allowed; the reduction of total emissions is the bottom line of rigid requirement and the fundamental requirement. The assessment for the reduction of total emissions must follow the assessment of the quality improvement. There is still a way from the completion of the quality improvement and the reduction of total emissions, and the accountability system should be strictly enforced pursuant to the laws; if the quality has been improved but the reduction of total emission is unfinished, the local collaborative reduction of emissions should be respected to adjust the national total targets and strictly implement the assessment methods.

    According to the analysis by many scholars, the targets of Chinese environmental policies are gradually shifting from the pollution control to the improvement of environmental quality and the prevention of environmental risk.

    From 2013 onward, the government has issued “10 Articles of Air” and “10 Articles of Water” in a row. “10 Articles of Soil” (Soil Pollution Prevention Action Plan) is expected to issue this year. These national action plans just coincide with the trend and performance ranging from the total pollution control to the quality control. And it is also no exception for such adjustment of departments by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

  

  

Environmental monitoring law enforcement will be under the vertical management

 

    The formation of Department of “Water, Air and Soil”Environmental Management under the Ministry of Environmental Protection will mark the pattern of “performing their own duties”. With the implementation of Soil Pollution Prevention Action Plan in this year, these three departments have their own “swords” with respect to the fulfillment of duties.

    This idea justifies the formation of new departments within the Ministry of Environmental Protection, such as “Vertical Management Office”. It is understood that such department is also a vertical management authority as formed according to the deployment by the central government, which is intended to coordinate the law enforcement of national environmental monitoring and supervision. The Fifth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China expressly states, “the vertical management of the environmental monitoring law enforcement for the departments below the provincial level should be implemented.”

    At present, the biggest obstacle to the environmental protection law enforcement is the administrative management system. According to the prevailing applicable laws and regulations, the local environmental protection authorities are subject to the leadership of its competent environmental protection authority and local government. Although the local environmental protection authority is subject to the competent environmental protection authority with respect to the business operation, but it is under the control of local government in terms of budget and personnel management.

    Mr. Ren Yong, the Deputy Director-general of Department of Human Resources Management and Institutional Arrangement under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, treats the vertical management of the environmental monitoring law enforcement for the departments below the provincial level as a major innovation of environmental protection management system. The reform of vertical management is also so complex that the overall system may be impacted, which requires the adjustment of institutional subordination, the adjustment of authorities at the levels of local government, functions between relevant government authorities, the internal responsibilities and operational relations of environmental protection system, and the restructuring and completion of basic system for the benefit of environmental control.

    According to the timetable defined by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, we should handle well for the transition to the vertical management of the environmental monitoring law enforcement for the departments below the provincial level in this year, issue the relevant, notices, study, develop and implement the pilot program, give support to the pilot provinces with respect to the construction of capabilities, and it is better than the restructuring task will be finished in two or three years’ time.

 

    As to when the Department of Water, Air and Soil Environmental Management and other organs will be ready to play their due roles, one executive from the Ministry of Environmental Protection responded in March 3rd, because the institutional restructuring covers a wide range of things and there is a process for the establishment of internal functions , operational mechanism and staffing allocation, we will make an announcement until all is done.