Looks like the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) will finally join the big boys. Foreign press reports (it still has not been officially reported in the Chinese press) state that The National People’s Congress (NPC) will vote this month to elevate SEPA to full ministerial status. SEPA has for the past ten years occupied a political twilight zone where it was considered a ministerial-level agency, but its minister, Zhou Shengxian, was not a standing member of the State Council. Soon, he will be (barring any adverse fallout from this). In addition, SEPA will reportedly receive a larger budget and more staff, perhaps doubling the size of the agency over the next several years (perspective break: that means going from the current 200 employees to maybe 400). The largest impact of this change will be at the macro-policy level. SEPA’s perspective will finally be consistently heard when the Standing Committee discusses and crafts regulatory policy and directives.
SEPA will not be wresting any environmental powers away from other ministries such as the National Development and Reform Commission or Ministry of Construction, but the existing patchwork of agencies with environmental portfolios does not differ significantly from many other countries. This move will have little immediate effect on the environmental enforcement ground game; SEPA is not slated to receive any greater control over local Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs).
Its actually a little surprising it has taken this long to elevate SEPA to full ministerial status– every domestic and foreign expert who has looked at environmental governance in China over the last 10 years has recommended this relatively simple step. I have used the failure to empower SEPA in the past to argue that there were still forces within the national leadership structure who weren’t fully on board with the “green” face others at the top were presenting to the public. I’m glad to see that perhaps this group is starting to lose some of its obstructionist power. I sort of like the acronym “SEPA” – easy to pronounce, vaguely organic – but it won’t work for the Ministry of Environment. The opportunity to create a new English acronym for a Chinese agency doesn’t come along often readers, any suggestions? Does MOE work for you?
P.S. The reports also indicate that the rumored “Ministry of Energy” will not be created during this session of the NPC. That news isn’t surprising; what I found surprising was that some people were actually predicting a March (2008) kick-off date for the new . . . MOE, uh oh, I fear acronymic confusion.