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Two-year, high-level inspections saw companies fined 1.43b yuan
The biggest environmental inspection ever in China - covering 31 provincial regions over two years - led to 18,199 government officials being punished for their failure to control pollution, it was announced on Thursday.
The central government inspectors exposed 135,000 cases, many featuring common problems such as weak enforcement of regulations to improve air and water quality, said Liu Changgen, deputy director of the National Environmental Inspection Office.
"The inspections motivated local governments to show their full strength in combating pollution, with tough penalties meted out to the vast number of officials who failed in their duties," he said.
About 29,000 companies were also fined a combined 1.43 billion yuan ($218 million) for failing to meet standards to reduce pollution, while 1,527 people were detained for potential criminal activity.
Over a series of monthlong inspections, the Ministry of Environmental Protection found some local governments had "performed poorly by showing negligence, inaction and a refusal to implement controls", said Liu, whose office is part of the ministry.
The No 1 problem was the severe air and water pollution that had occurred in some places because local authorities had not taken effective environmental measures, leading to public concern.
For example, in Sichuan province"s Zigong, the concentration of sulfur dioxide in the air increased by 32.5 percent in the first half of 2017, while quality tests showed only 11.1 percent of the city"s water was above the national standard in 2016, compared with 50 percent in 2013, the inspection team reported to the provincial government.
Nationally, inspectors found a lack of facilities to process the daily waste from urban regions, with 12 million metric tons of untreated sewage discharged directly into waterways, Liu said on Thursday.
In response, cities have accelerated construction of treatment facilities, such as Guangdong province"s Shenzhen, which has started to expand its sewage network by 2,000 kilometers.
Inspection teams also discovered illegal and excessive exploitation of mines, water resources and wetlands, including in Hainan and Shandong provinces, which showed that decision-makers had not been paying close attention, Liu said.
"Next year, our teams will revisit these provinces to check whether the problems have been solved," he added. "Inspections in each place lasted for only a month, but the message they sent to officials - to protect and improve the environment - should last a long time."