Beijing to raise pollution taxes to fund clean energy
A draft law would apply new taxes against noise, water, air and solid waste pollution. Rates will vary according to type and amount of substances emitted. Expert praises the move to promote clean technologies but urges the government to reinvest in the environment. At present, it is cheaper to pay fines than invest in cleaner technologies.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s State Council (cabinet) yesterday issued a draft proposal to change the country’s environment legislation in order to target air, water, noise and solid waste pollution through levies on polluters.

The move appears to be part of Beijing's promise to implement regulations that will force polluters to pay for the damage they do.

The council proposed the following rates: 1.4 yuan per 4kg of suspended solids for water pollutants, a range of 5-30 yuan per tonne for solid waste and 1.2 yuan per unit for air pollutants.

For air pollutants, what counts as a unit will depend on the pollutant. Sulphur dioxide, for example, will attract a levy of 1.2 yuan per 0.95kg.

Industrial noises will also attract levies, according to the level of decibels recorded. These will be on a scale of 350 yuan to 11,200 yuan, but the council did not say if these were daily rates or another timeframe.

Such taxes may be halved for companies emitting below half the national standard. Provincial governments may raise the rates according to local environmental conditions, state-run Xinhua reported.

The taxes will not be applied to pollutants in agriculture except those produced by large-scale animal husbandry and mobile pollution sources, including motor vehicles, locomotives, non-road mobile machinery, ships and aircraft, as long as the pollutants are within national standards.

Normal emissions by urban sewage and refuse treatment plants will also be exempted.

Most Chinese consider pollution as the country’s top priority. However, for many companies, the cost of complying with environmental regulations has traditionally outweighed the fines, giving industries little incentive to install clean technologies.

Environment Minister Chen Jining said on Tuesday that the environment in China had "reached its limit", with high pollution and ecological damage.

He said the government would take "more forceful measures" over the next five years to protect the environment.

Commenting on the draft environmental tax law, Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that the proposed new legislation would motivate companies to embrace clean technology.

In his view, although the law offered a smooth transition from the pollutant discharge fees companies currently pay, it would take time to see how it would fare in the long term.

"It's an issue whether the levy could be charged accurately based on the pollutants generated. It will take time to observe whether the levy will be as negotiable as pollution discharge fees," Ma noted.

Nevertheless, "Transparency is very important. Not only will it allow taxation authorities to get up-to-date information over the amount of pollution a company has produced, it will allow the public to monitor how effectively the levy is being invested back into environmental protection."

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