The Ministry of Environmental Protection responded Monday to online posts which alleged independent assessment of air quality might be banned, saying the draft regulation that would grant the ban has never been issued.
Environmental non-governmental organizations commonly assess or release air pollution data, the Shanghai Morning Post reported Monday.
However, such grass-roots activism will be prohibited once a regulation drafted in 2009 is adopted, said the report.
It quoted the 81st article of the "environmental monitoring and management regulation" drafted by the ministry, which says "working units or individuals must not publicize data of environmental quality monitoring without authorized approval."
The report was widely circulated on social networks, with the tagline claiming that China might ban independent environmental assessment.
As a response to the online discussion, Xinhua News Agency reported Monday that the ministry said the draft is still under amendment, and there is no clear timetable for issuing the new regulations. The current revised version is reported to be very different from the original one, but no details were revealed.
Nonetheless, local NGOs feel upset about the possibility independent assessment might be banned, and have been campaigning against the adoption of this article for over a year.
"The authorities can fine us if we release false data, or we could work out a better system together for more truthful information, but it's unacceptable to talk about banning our assessment," said Feng Yongfeng, the founder of NGO Green Beagle who wrote a letter to the ministry, co-signed by another 20 NGOs calling for a repeal of the regulation pertaining to individual assessment.
Green Beagle started reporting Beijing's PM 2.5 emissions last year. The index generated interest and controversy, but forced local authorities to better report pollution data.
"It'd be a huge step back for the improvement of the public environment. Without civil supervision of pollution, only big polluters will benefit from the regulation," said Feng.
In June, the ministry said at a press conference the monitoring of air quality from some foreign embassies in China is inaccurate and goes against Chinese laws. The US embassy in Beijing publishes data about local air quality online.
"It's about the government being more transparent on policy making," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
"It's good for public awareness of environmental protection to be informed [of problems] by NGOs. There should be a way for the government to cooperate with organizations like that," Ma noted.
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