Faced with rampant pollution, China reports increase in citizen protests

The sorry state of air and water quality in China has led to rising public protests, says a top environment agent there — and citizens and officials alike are urging the country to crack down on polluters. In the first five months of 2007, the State Environmental Protection Administration received 1,814 citizen petitions demanding a cleaner environment, an 8 percent increase over the same time period last year. And there’s plenty of room for improvement: last year, more than a quarter of the length of China’s seven main river systems was deemed unfit for human contact, and in a recent survey of 75 wastewater treatment plants, half didn’t work right — or at all. The central government talks tough on pollution, but local leaders are said to cater to industry; SEPA officials now say flagrant polluters will be denied bank loans. “Environmental protection offices and enforcement staff must stand up when the time demands,” says SEPA’s Zhou Shengxian. “Dare to struggle against polluting behavior.”