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Identifying Duties and Improving Approval Efficiency – Interpretation of Regulation on Level-to-Level EIA Approval of Construction Projects by Zhu Xingxiang, DG of Department of EIA
To strengthen and standardize level-to-level EIA approval of construction projects, improve approval efficiency and identify duties related, MEP amended Regulation on Level-to-Level EIA Approval of Construction Projects (hereinafter referred to as the Regulation) after taking full consideration of comments from related departments.
Recently the reporter with China Environment News interviewed Zhu Xingxiang, Director General of Department of Environmental Impact Assessment, and invited him to interpret the new edition (MEP Order No.5).
Reporter: We know that the previous Regulation on Level-to-Level Approval was issued in July 2002. Why was it revised after only a few years of implementation?
Zhu: The previous edition of the Regulation on Level-to-Level Approval was issued by former State Administration of Environmental Protection in July 2002. With the implementation of Law on Environmental Impact Assessment in September 2003 and the introduction of Decision of the State Council on Reform of Investment System in 2004, some of the requirements no longer fit into the changing situation. 
Meanwhile, the pervious Regulation followed the principle of approval by the same level authority provided in Regulation on Environmental Protection of Construction Projects in 1998, which failed to take into account of the nature of construction projects and their impact on environment and cannot give full play to the role of environmental management on construction projects. Therefore, it is requisite to strengthen its feasibility and pertinence.
Currently, domestic economy is faced with severe challenge as affected by evident slowdown of global economic growth. While implementing the strategic arrangement by CPC Central Committee and the State Council which aimed to maintain growth, expand domestic consumption and adjust economic structure and meeting the urgent demand of keeping fast yet sound economic development, we need to do a better job in facilitating infrastructure construction, people's well-being projects, ecological development and post disaster reconstruction that are in line with domestic interest. On top of that, we also have to improve project approval efficiency and keep a firm grip on energy-and-resource intensive industries and heavy pollution industries, which calls for standardized regulation on level-to-level approval.
Hence, it is very necessary and urgent to revise the old Regulation.
Reporter: What was the detailed process of amendment?
Zhu: The amendment involved many discussions, particularly on article 23 of the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment so that the requirement of project approval may, as much as possible, take account of the real impact of construction projects on the environment and reflect the characteristics of level-to-level management of EIA.
In early 2007, the Commission of Legislative Affairs, Standing Committee of NPC gave an interpretation of issues related to level-to-level approval of EIA on construction projects: the competent authority of environmental protection under the State Council may interpret construction projects of some particular nature according to item 1) under article 23 of the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment.  
Based on the interpretation, we have sought wide-ranging comments from eight industrial associations including electric power, iron & steel, non-ferrous metal, chemical and petrochemicals and EPB and other departments of provincial and municipal levels before preparing for the draft version. During this period, we have sent written documents to related departments under the State Council, local governments and EPBs for three times, soliciting their opinions and put them to deliberation twice at the ministerial executive meeting. At length we finished amendment of the Regulation.
Reporter: What are the principles followed while revising the Regulation?
Zhu: We maintain laws and regulations. 
According to the Law of People's Republic of China on Administrative Licensing, level-to-level approval should follow the principle identified in the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment, i.e., construction projects under the jurisdiction of the competent authority for environmental protection under the State Council should be limited to the following three categories: special construction projects involving nuclear facilities and confidential programs; construction projects extending across provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and projects approved by the State Council or other departments under the mandate of the State Council. Approval of EIA on construction projects beyond the jurisdiction of MEP are subject to the provisions of provincial, autonomous region and municipality governments. 
We also clarified the types of projects considered to be of particular nature in line with the interpretation provided by the Commission of Legislative Affairs, Standing Committee of NPC and requirement of the central government and the State Council that energy and resource-intensive and heavy pollution projects should be strictly controlled. The approval of EIA on some energy and resource-intensive and heavy pollution projects that might have a major impact on the environment was put to the hands of MEP and approval of other construction projects that will lead to little impact was entrusted to provincial EPB.
Reporter: Please tell us about some of the adjustments made in the revised Regulation and what are the important things newly added?
Zhu:
This amendment defined the principle of EIA approval of construction projects by MEP and local EPBs and revised the reference of level-to-level approval which is to be set by local people's government within their jurisdiction.
The new version specified that apart from projects leaving to the judgment of MEP for their possible major environmental impact, EIA of other construction projects which may lead to big environmental impact, including nonferrous metal smelting, mine exploitation, iron & steel processing, calcium carbide, ferroalloy, coke, refuse incineration, power generation and pulp making, is subject to the approval of provincial EPBs.
The new version added an article on approval by mandate which stipulates that MEP is entitled to entrust EIA approval of some projects under its jurisdiction according to law to the provincial EPB where the projects originate and announce the entrustment to the public. The entrustee should review EIA documents in the name of MEP within the scope of entrustment. The provincial EPB, as entrusted, shall not recommit the projects to other organizations or individuals. It also holds MEP responsible for supervision of EIA approval entrusted to provincial EPBs and MEP should face the consequence of entrusted approval. 
Another big change to the Regulation is that categories of projects approved by MEP and by provincial EPBs as entrusted are subject to adjustment and will be released separately. It ruled out the tedious formalities which require department rules to be changed once the categories are revised. This change helps to facilitate the adjustment and implementation of categories in the future.  Reporter: What are the factors to be considered in the implementation of revised Regulation? Can you give us a reminder as for what local EPBs should do to get ready for it?
Zhu:
Now MEP only issued the Regulation on Level-to-Level Approval. The two supporting documents, i.e. categories of construction projects under the direct approval of MEP and categories of construction projects approved by provincial EPBs mandated by MEP have not released. MEP will actively work with related departments so as to issue the categories as soon as possible.
Next, we will revise Circular on Strengthening Level-to-Level EIA Approval of Construction Projects (MEP Notice No. 164 [2004]) jointly with other departments. Meanwhile, specific requirements will be raised on construction projects entrusted by MEP to provincial EPBs for EIA approval to step up guidance and supervision.
Local EPBs should get prepared for formulating provincial regulation on level-to-level approval in cooperation with local governments after the two supporting documents are released.

(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)

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