Incorporating cleaner production analysis into environmental impact assessment in china

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    Wenming ChenChina National Cleaner Production Center

    Kimberley A. WarrenUniversity of Hong Kong

    Ning DuanChina National Cleaner Production Center

    An environmental impact assessment (EIA) system was established in 1979 inChina. Although EIA was designed as a tool for pollution prevention, inpractice it has been based on end-of-pipe (EOP) treatment control since itwas first introduced. This approach has ensured an overwhelming focus byenterprises on the use of EOP treatment, rather than pollution prevention, tomeet environmental standards, and it has produced a low rate of operation forEOP facilities. The low operation rate for EOP facilities can be traced to thetraditional EIA system: it leads project proponents to develop large EOPtreatment facilities, but once the main production lines are put into operation,proponents rarely have sufficient funds to operate the treatment facilities. Thispaper analyzes problems that exist in the EIA system in China, and it describesthe Cleaner Production Index and Evaluation System, which is being proposedby environmental authorities in China to evaluate EIA projects based on cleanerproduction criteria. The paper also suggests how cleaner production analysiscan be integrated into the EIA system to improve it. 1999 Elsevier Sci-ence Inc.

    Development of the EIA System in China

    The evolution of Chinas environmental impact assessment (EIA) systemcan be divided into four phases: preparation phase (19721979), preliminary

    Address requests for reprints to: Wenming Chen, China National Cleaner Production Center, No. 8,Dayangfang, Anwai, Beijing 100012, Peoples Republic of China.

    ENVIRON IMPACT ASSESS REV 1999;19:457476 1999 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. 0195-9255/99/$see front matter655 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10010 PII S0195-9255(99)00023-2


    implementation phase (19791986), overall implementation phase (19861990), and intensification phase (1991present). The preparation phasefor EIA occurred during the 1970s, when environmental protection wasbeginning in China. Because of serious pollution problems, some regions,for example, Beijing, began to conduct environmental quality assessments(EQAs) in the early 1970s.

    In 1973, the technical team for A Study on Environmental QualityAssessment for the Western Suburbs of Beijing was established. The studyfocused on how to protect the environment of Beijing in the short and longterm. Nanjing City in Jiangsu Province and Maoming City in GuangdongProvince also conducted their own EQAs during this period. During thepreparation phase, environmental scholars in China also began researchon EIA. In 1977, the Chinese Academy of Sciences organized a seminaron Regional Environmental Science to promote EQAs in large- andmedium-sized cities in China. After the seminar, EQAs were conducted insome large cities (e.g., Shanghai, Tianjin, and Guangzhou) and for somewater basin regions (e.g., Songhua River, Tumeng River, and the WestLake of Huangzhou City) (NEPA 1996).

    The first clear requirement for EIA was contained in the first version ofChinas basic environmental law, Environmental Protection Law of thePeoples Republic of China (for trial implementation), issued in 1979. Thislaw established EIA as a compulsory environmental management program(NEPA and the National Peoples Congress 1989), and it marked the begin-ning of the preliminary implementation phase (19791986). In 1981, theState Planning Commission, State Construction Commission, State Eco-nomic and Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Commit-tee of the State Council (1981) issued Management Procedures for Envi-ronmental Protection of Capital Construction Projects, which outlinedrequirements for the EIA system. The first EIA conducted for a proposeddevelopment project in China was the Environmental Impact Assessmentof Yongchuan Copper Mine. This EIA was carried out between 1979 and1981, and it evaluated the impacts of the proposed mine on surface waterand air quality.

    In 1986, the Chinese government modified the 1981 version of the Man-agement Procedures for Environmental Protection of Capital ConstructionProjects. (NEPA 1986). The new version more clearly defined the scope,content, management limitations, and responsibilities linked to EIA. Dur-ing the overall implementation phase (19861990), the National Environ-mental Protection Agency (NEPA, which was transformed into the StateEnvironmental Protection Administration, SEPA, in March 1998) and othergovernment bodies issued a number of administrative regulations relatedto EIA, including procedures for issuing licenses to organizations qualifiedto conduct EIAs (NEPA 1989). The rate of compliance with EIA was highduring the overall implementation phase: between 1986 and 1990, morethan 90% of medium and large construction projects conducted EIAs.


    Despite the EIA programs success during the overall implementationphase, several key concerns were identified during this period. First, mostEIAs were conducted after projects had been sited and production pro-cesses had been designed. The relative timing of activities was such thatEIAs tended to focus on end-of-pipe (EOP) treatment and to neglect issuesrelated to alternative facility siting and cleaner production. Second, manyof the EIAs carried out during this period were of poor quality, and imple-mentation of the EIAs and/or mitigation measures was low. Third, smallindustrial projects, especially those involving township-and-village indus-trial enterprises (TVIEs), frequently avoided the EIA system. This lack ofparticipation was the result of an early focus of the EIA program on large-and medium-sized projects, thus enabling small-sized projects and TVIEs toescape detailed scrutiny by local environmental protection bureaus (EPBs).Local governments vested interests (i.e., ownership of TVIEs) in the devel-opment and success of rural enterprises also shielded TVIEs from environ-mental scrutiny and created de facto exemptions for TVIEs from EIA andother regulatory requirements in the 1980s. In some cases, local govern-ments applied intense pressure on local EPBs to approve projects involv-ing TVIEs.

    After 1990, two trends emerged concerning EIA in China. The firstrelates to the specific content of the EIA. During the 1990s, the EIAexpanded in scope from assessments that primarily covered impacts ofindustrial pollutant discharges to those that were broader and more ecologi-cal in nature. The second trend concerns what has come to be termedregional environmental impact assessment. Whereas prior to 1990 EIAswere mainly conducted for individual development projects, after 1990EIAs also were required for entire regions. For example, EIAs have beenconducted for river basins and for entire industrial development areas (e.g.,the Pudong area in Shanghai).

    More recently, in November 1998 Chinas State Council approved arevised version of the Management Procedures for Environmental Protec-tion of Capital Construction Projects. The new guidelines (State Council1998) contain specific provisions for cleaner production (Article 4), and theystate that all industrial construction projects should adopt low-polluting,energy-saving CP technologies that reduce pollutant discharges. The revi-sions provide an implicit mandate for all large-, medium- and small-sizedindustrial construction projects to include considerations related to cleanerproduction (CP) in the context of EIA. Last, SEPA is currently consideringthe application of strategic environmental assessment systems (CER1999). Such systems move beyond EIAs for projects and apply EIA proce-dures to government economic and environmental policies.

    EIA Process for Construction Projects in China

    All new construction projects, expansions or renovations of existing facili-ties in China must comply with the Management Procedures for Environ-


    mental Protection of Capital Construction Projects to receive project ap-proval from governmental agencies, such as planning or land managementdepartments. The guidelines establish an overall environmental manage-ment system for construction projects, which consists of five stages:

    Project proposal Project feasibility study Project design Project construction, and Inspection and approval (of the completed project).

    The first two stages of the system are part of the EIA regulatory process;the latter three stages are carried out under the three synchronizationsprogram. This program stipulates that environmental protection measuresthat are identified in the first two stages of the EIA management processmust be designed, constructed, and operated simultaneously with the design,construction, and operation, respectively, of projects main facilities.

    The project proposal stage is designed to provide a brief introduction tothe project, including facility siting issues and potential environment im-pacts. In the second stage, the project feasibility study, an EIA is carriedout. In theory, this suggests that project proponents carry out EIA analysesprior to the design stage of their projects. However, in practice it is commonfor project proponents to write their project proposals after decisions aboutthe projects location and final design have been made. Thus, major deci-sions regarding process technologies and plant design are made prior tothe feasibility study phase, i.e., before an EIA is carried out. As discussedlater, by bringing their completed plant and treatment facility designs tothe table at such an early stage, project proponents make it difficult foralternative project designs (e.g., cleaner production technologies) or facilitylocations to be considered and integrated into subsequent EIA analyses.

    EIA Management Procedures

    In China, the scope of the EIA, and the procedural requirements thatproject proponents must satisfy, depend on the potential environmentalimpacts of the project. In general, if the anticipated environmental impactsare judged by environmental authorities to be significant, project propo-nents must complete a comprehensive EIA and submit an environmentalimpact statement (EIS).1

    If the projects environmental impacts are anticipated (through the proj-ect proposal) to be small, the procedural requirements for the EIA aremuch simpler, with proponents typically only filling out a brief environmen-tal impact form (EIF). The EIF contains the proposed projects location;main products and raw materials, particularly toxic ones; water and energy

    1 We follow translation of Sinkule and Ortolano (1995) of the Chinese phrase, baogao shu, as environmen-tal impact statement; this phrase also can be literally translated as an environmental impact report.


    consumption; estimated total pollution discharges and main environmentalimpacts; and pollution control measures, including treatment and recyclingand reuse measures.

    Environmental authorities determine whether an EIS or EIF is requiredthrough project classifications. New construction, expansion, and renova-tion projects in China are divided into three classes (A, B, and C) accordingto their potential degree of environmental impacts. National and localenvironmental protection agencies are in charge of the classification aparticular project receives. Class A means the project may cause significantnegative environmental impacts. For Class A projects, proponents mustprepare a comprehensive EIA analysis, the result of which is the filing ofan EIS with responsible environmental authorities. Class B projects maycause limited unfavorable impacts to the environment. Class C projects donot cause unfavorable impacts to the environment. For both Class B andClass C projects, an EIF must be filled out and filed with relevant environ-mental agencies, but an EIS is not required. (However, if subsequent re-views of the EIF indicate that the pollution generation or toxic chemicalhandling aspects of these projects is indeed significant, an EIA will berequired.)

    Evaluation and Approval of EIAs

    In China, the agency responsible for examining and approving an EIA isdetermined based on the level of investment of a project. Only SEPA(and its authorized representatives at the provincial and municipal levels)approves EIAs for projects with investment levels greater than 200 millionyuan (about $24 million US). Provincial- and municipal-level EPBs reviewprojects requiring investments between 50 million and 200 million yuan, andcity-level EPBs evaluate EIAs for projects costing less than 50 million yuan.

    As discussed earlier, to initiate the EIA process, a project proponentmust first submit a project proposal, which contains a preliminary analysisof the estimated environmental impacts, to the responsible environmentalagency: SEPA or a provincial, municipal, or city EPB. The responsibleenvironmental agency reviews the project proposal, solicits comments fromits own staff and external sources (e.g., industry experts), and then schedulesa meeting with the project proponents to discuss their projects classification.

    If the environmental agency classifies the project as Class B or Class C,project proponents need only fill out an EIF. In the case of an EIF, theproject proponents are not obligated to use the services of a certified EIAorganization (e.g., an environmental institute or consulting company), butmay have their own staff (often with the assistance of local EPB staff)complete the EIF.2

    2 An EIA licensing system limits the number of institutes or companies that qualify as certified EIAorganizations in China. The authority to provide EIA certification rests with SEPA. Environmental institutesor consulting companies submit an application (and often complete training courses) for EIA certification,and SEPA evaluates the application, primarily based on the experience of the institute or company with


    If the project has been classified by the environmental agency as ClassA, the project proponents are obligated by law to hire a certified EIAorganization to assist them with the EIA analysis and submission of anEIS. A contract is signed between the organization conducting the EIAand project proponents, and the EIA is started. The organization conductingthe EIA prepares an outline of the EIA for the project and then submitsit to the responsible environmental agency (SEPA or an EPB) for reviewand approval. When preparing the EIA outline for their clients, the certifiedEIA organization is responsible for identifying the potential environmentalmedia to be impacted by the proposed project and the appropriate levelof analysis to be undertaken in the EIA. The organization preparing theEIA accomplishes this by dividing the EIA into various individual impactassessments based on the environmental elements (i.e., media) to beimpacted (e.g., an air EIA, a surface water EIA, a n...


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