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    Deputy County Head Fired for Lax Environmental Oversight

    An official in Henan is paying the price for his constituency’s underwhelming efforts to curb pollution.

    A high-ranking official in Puyang, a county in central China, has been dismissed from his post after a provincial environmental inspection team uncovered a raft of problems in how his administration controls — or doesn’t control — pollution.

    Deputy county head Chen Zengguang’s departure was announced on Aug. 10 and discussed at length during a meeting of the Puyang County government on Monday, according to a Henan media outlet. His firing marks the first time a county-level official has been held responsible for failing to adhere to environmental protection policies since the province launched a clean-up campaign on July 21, distributing promotional materials and scheduling more frequent inspections.

    The county is also under fire for having made little progress in mitigating pollution from coal, curbing waste disposal in villages, and poorly managing airborne dust and debris around construction sites. Government bureaus were found to have been unwilling to cooperate with the environment department, and an effective grassroots environmental oversight network was never established. Overall, the county’s efforts to promote environmental protection had been woefully inadequate, the statement concluded.

    In fact, 134 companies in Puyang County had been identified as potential polluters, according to a statement on Aug. 10 from the local government. In addition to Chen, a village chief was also removed from his post in Puyang County, which has been given 15 days to address the problems. No penalties for failing to do so were specified.

    Puyang County, whose economy relies largely on heavy industry, had been repeatedly called out by environmental inspection teams prior to Chen’s removal. Most recently, inspectors earlier this month discovered a paint factory, a tricycle maker, and a circuit board manufacturer that had been operating without business licenses.

    In addition to Puyang County, the city of the same name that administers it was criticized by the central Ministry of Environmental Protection in April for including roadside food stalls in a list of polluters to be monitored. The city also banned such eateries from opening within a kilometer of air quality monitoring stations.

    In August 2015, the central government began holding officials accountable for environmental shortcomings in areas over which they have jurisdiction. According to an official guideline, fired officials can be rehired, but may not be reappointed to any government post for one year, and are ineligible for promotion for two years.

    Puyang County is not the only place in China where officials have been disciplined for insufficient environmental oversight of their jurisdictions. Earlier this month, two deputy district heads in the northern city of Tianjin were dismissed after inspectors visited their respective districts. And in February, three environmental protection officials in northwestern Shaanxi province were sacked after a popular reality TV show exposed ongoing environmental problems.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: Sheep graze on farmland next to a factory in Puyang, Henan province, Jan. 1, 2010. Hu Qingming/IC)