China lambasts NE city for turning blind eye to oil pollution

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s environment ministry has slammed a northeastern city for “turning a blind eye” to pollution from small-scale oil refining that was made illegal in 1996, underlining Beijing’s struggle to clean up the country’s environment despite tightening rules.

On the outskirts of Anshan, a heavy industry base in Liaoning province, nearly 16,000 square meters of land - an area the size of three American football fields - have been contaminated by sludge and residues from illegal refining, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said in a notice on Tuesday.

While Taian county in Anshan was ordered in October last year to implement a treatment plan, it has made only slow progress, the ministry said. “Daily supervision is severely deficient,” the ministry said, accusing authorities of “turning a blind eye” to violations and ordering the city government to investigate and punish the officials responsible.

Despite promises of “zero tolerance” and a constant effort to name and shame offenders, China has long labored to enforce its environmental laws and ensure violations are properly punished. Many local authorities are determined to protect vital sources of economic growth.

Taian remains home to large numbers of small, refining enterprises, the ministry said, despite the 1996 ban.

“A large volume of refining waste and sludge is illegally dumped in village ponds or on farmland,” it said, adding that “criminals” were making money by transferring sludge from other regions and dumping it in the county.

China said last week that more than 3,500 people had been prosecuted for pollution-related crimes in the first 10 months of the year, up nearly 40 percent from a year ago, with Beijing looking to courts and police to help curb violations.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell