BEIJING (Reuters) - China needs more powers to crack down on polluting companies and local governments that protect them, the country's environment minister said on Thursday.
Beijing has identified pollution as a top priority as it tries to reverse the damage done by decades of untrammelled growth, but the Ministry of Environmental Protection has long struggled to impose its will on growth-obsessed local authorities and polluting state-owned firms.
A revised environmental protection law came into effect at the start of last year with the aim of strengthening inspectors' powers and increasing the range of punishments for lawbreakers. China has also set up hundreds of independent environmental monitoring stations nationwide.
But environment minister Chen Jining told reporters that the new law still needed more teeth, with too many companies still behaving illegally and local governments still hampering enforcement efforts.
"Companies are under pressure and local governments are under pressure, but there is still a long way to go before every enterprise obeys the law," he said.
He said not enough pressure was being put on local governments to implement environmental policies, and there was not enough cooperation between government departments.
Chen said as many as 191,000 firms were found to be violating environmental regulations last year, 20,000 of which were shut down and 34,000 forced to suspend operations until they complied. Firms were forced to pay 569 million yuan ($87.32 million) in fines over the year.
(Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Adrian Croft)