Ningbo backs down from PX project

By Liu Dong in Ningbo and Yan Shuang in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-29 1:35:04

Following a massive week-long protest by residents, a controversial petrochemical project in the eastern city of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, was suspended Sunday. The protest only ended yesterday evening after clashes broke out between crowds and police in front of the local government compound.

Plans for a multibillion-yuan expansion of an oil refinery and chemical plant, located in Ningbo's Zhenhai district, were temporarily halted pending further "scientific assessments," Ningbo officials announced yesterday evening, vowing that that no "paraxylene (PX) project would be allowed in this city."

Angry residents believe the plant, 15.5 kilometers from the city center, would in fact be producing PX, a chemical used to make plastic bottles and polyester and believed by many to be harmful to humans.

Residents protested outside the Ningbo city government building Sunday, shouting slogans, singing the national anthem and holding banners saying "Protect Ningbo."

The government's announcement  later that evening to suspend the project did not entirely quell the crowds. 

Although the daytime protest, starting from 9 am, proceeded peacefully, conflicts broke out at around 8:30 pm, as armed police arrested dozens of protesters while trying to disperse thousands more demonstrators.

The petrochemical plant expansion was planned as part of the Ningbo Petrochemical Economic and Technical Development Zone in Zhenhai, with an investment of some 55.8 billion yuan ($8.8 billion). The plant would have then had the capacity to refine 15 million tons of crude oil a year.

One resident, Yang, who joined in the Sunday protest, told the Global Times, "The city doesn't need such a notorious project despite a big investment."

Yang claimed the water pollution by chemical plants will leave a serious effect on Ningbo's aquatic products.

Clashes originally broke out on Friday between protesters and the police. The Zhenhai police Saturday denied online rumors that said they had beaten a college student to death.

Ningbo's top officials met with resident representatives on Saturday. The government announced it was willing to listen to public appeals, and that the Zhenhai project would undergo more environmental impact assessments.

Hu Wenfei, a press officer for the Ningbo city government, told the Global Times the government had made the decision to suspend the project on Sunday "out of respect for public opinions."

PX projects have been controversial nationwide in the past, including sparking protests last year on one occasion in Dalian, Liaoning Province, which again forced the local government to back down and move the project elsewhere. 

Ma Jun, director with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the protests reflected a rising public environmental awareness.

Ma admitted that some residents might not be fully educated about specific health hazards before rushing to reject any chemical industry.

 "Zhenhai is filled with lots of chemical plants already and the possible pollution of this proposed factory makes residents more worried," Ma said.

He suggested the government show more transparency in its work and communicate with residents about possible health impacts earlier. "We need more rational public participation in this process, since it can't be realized by street politics.


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