by Xinhua Writers Li Laifang and Wang Jianhua
QIAN'AN, Hebei/YA'AN, Sichuan, June 4 (Xinhua) -- With China's iron business in trouble and facing losses, Malanzhuang Iron Mine is spending 2.4 million yuan (390,000 U.S. Dollars) planting on slag heaps.
Since 2008, more than 28 million yuan has been spent by the company in Qian'an City, Hebei Province, undoing the damage done by the largest open iron ore mine in Asia. The Malanzhuang mine is a joint venture between the Shougang Group, a leading steelmaker, and Tangshan City, which administers Qian'an.
On the outskirts of Qian'an, some 200 km east of Beijing, 20 hectares of dense shrubbery covering what was once a large tailings reservoir are now home to numerous wild birds.
Liu Zuoli, general manager of Malanzhuang, believes that harmony with the natural world is part of productivity and reflects the value of labor."We don't simply abandon tailings reservoirs any more like we used to, leaving them barren and a source of sandstorms," Liu said.
In 2007, China's top leadership pushed ecological agenda up the list of the nation's priorities, a great advance after nearly three decades of rapid growth that paid no heed to pollution or damage to the ecosystem. In 2012, the greening of society was incorporated into the nation's overall development plan.
Over the past seven years, Qian'an has spent 2 billion yuan on the treatment and restoration of nearly 200 tailings reservoirs, with 1,500 hectares of mining areas restored to something close to their former glory.
Song Xiaojie, 35, is a graduate in agriculture and forestry. She is chief technical consultant for vegetation restoration at the mine and plants trees with her colleagues every spring."Repairing the ecosystem is an indispensable part of our work," she said.
The city divided itself into three major zones -- eco-agriculture, new industries and residential -- in 2013. Forest coverage in Qian'an reached 40.8 percent last year, nearly double the national average. The city has cut iron and steel capacity by nearly 10 million tonnes.
Restoration of mining areas is just one aspect of building a better Qian'an. The city signed an agreement with Hollywood China Investment Group in May to build a Paramount theme park there within five years. The core scenic area of the project will cost upwards of 30 billion yuan and the park is expected to host up to 30 million tourists each year.
Environmental protection is now important for evaluating township officials, 20 percent of the full evacuation scores among township officials in Qian'an, for example.
"Qian'an boomed because of mining and became strong through the associated industries. Going forward, Qian'an will be prosperous thanks to its greenery," said Zhang Shuyun, mayor of the city.
RULE OF LAW IN ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION
With World Environment Day celebrated this Friday, it's a good time to take stock of China's progress on the environment this year. In January, the new Environmental Protection Law came into effect, with tough measures against polluters and high fines. The new rules allow NGOs to initiate environmental lawsuits.
Record fines have already been imposed this year. In March, Zhangjiakou City in Hebei fined a sewage center 6.74 million yuan for discharging four to five times the national limit of pollutants. Beijing slapped a fine of 3.9 million yuan on a food company for water pollution.
In that time, Qian'an environmental protection bureau handled more than 50 cases of excessive pollution or lack of environmental impact evaluation.In April, Qian'an Intermediate People's Court sentenced a factory owner to one year in prison for water pollution. Suspects in two other cases are awaiting trial. All three cases came to the attention of the police through tip-offs from the public.
NGOs in China now have the weapon of litigation in their armory to fight the green fight. Last month, a court in Fujian heard an environmental damage lawsuit filed by two NGOs. It was the first filed by NGOs for environmental damage since the new law took effect.
"The rule of law in environmental protection is our basic goal,"said Zhang Boju, executive director of Friends of Nature, one of the organizations which brought the action. "We should use the legal weapon to protect our green mountains and to clean up our rivers."
With obvious smog in many cities and water pollution everywhere, the public has become hyper-aware of environmental problems and wants to see substantial progress.
Much remains to be done. A water resource official from Ya'an, a major refuge for giant pandas in Sichuan Province, recently complained that he has no legal basis to ask small hydropower stations to allow more water downstream in case of drought.
"Public action is far from enough. Of course citizens should play a bigger part in environmental monitoring, but we must also do more to pollute less and adopt energy-saving ways of life," Zhang said, citing this year's World Environment Day theme - Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.
An industrial park is under construction in Ya'an with recycling at its heart. With forest coverage of 63 percent, the highest in Sichuan, Ya'an was made one of 55 ecological demonstration areas last year.
In the recycling park EMIN Microcrystalline Technology produces microcrystalline stone from leftovers from granite production processes. Ya'an has rich granite resources.
"Our production process has zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other waste," said Wang Ganglin, deputy general manager of the company.
Ya'an is moving polluting plants out of key ecological areas and planning a national giant panda park. The government of under-developed Ya'an has made eco-tourism a key strategy for local development while adopting the strictest regulations to protect its water and forests.
Recycling on an industrial scale is being promoted elsewhere in China, including Qian'an, which boasts a provincial-level recycling demonstration park.
CHINA'S GREEN FUTURE
China is committed to decreasing the share of fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 80 percent by 2030 and cutting carbon dioxide emissions 40 to 45 percent from the 2005 level by 2020.
A series of global ecological crises has shown that the Earth is unable to support further industrialization. Developed, capitalist countries suffer from a fundamental conflict between the logic of capital and the natural world, according Zhao Lingyun, an eco-economist and former head of Hubei Academy of Social Sciences.
Zhao said the developed powers have alleviated their own ecological crises by seeking ecological hegemony, exploiting the resources of other countries and transferring their ecological burdens abroad. But socialist China that puts people's interests first has advantages in building a green society, said Zhao.
Chinese President Xi Jinping last week said coordinated regional growth and green development must be carried out fully, and green development will be prominent in the 13th five-year plan (2016-2020) for social and economic development.
In its first report on public awareness of ecological civilization, by the Ministry of Environmental Protection last year, 78 percent of those surveyed agreed it was a matter for everyone and 99.5 percent promised to actively work toward the goal of a society in balance with itself and with nature.
(Xinhua correspondents Dong Xiaohong, Li Junyi and Liu Huan contributed to the report.)