October 14, 2008

Chinese City Set for Battle Over Factory

By From news reports

Residents of a Chinese city plagued by pollution are mobilizing against a proposed chemical plant that they say could harm their health, with some urging marches against the plan, which they say puts growth before the environment.

The plant proposed for Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, on the eastern coast of China, would make paraxylene, a petrochemical also known as PX and used to make polyester. Last year, protests against a PX plant planned for another coastal city, Xiamen, led to its being shelved.

Now Taizhou residents, dismayed at the prospect of another chemical plant in an area already crowded with them, are threatening to re-enact those protests.

"Resolutely oppose the PX project. As Taizhou residents, everyone must take some action," said one message on a local Web site (bbs.taizhou.com) that has served as a platform for those opposed to the plant. "We want clear water and green hills, not toxic cash."

Leaders in China have vowed to create what it calls a more "harmonious society" with cleaner air and water, even at the cost of slower economic growth. But this dispute threatens to become another battle pitting citizens with environmental or health concerns against local officials whose priority often remains attracting fresh investment and revenue.

Another Internet site devoted to opposing the project, calling itself Baowei Taizhou - roughly translated as Safeguard Taizhou - is urging residents to "surround Taizhou."

"Let the people speak out. Give them full rights to know and express themselves," said the latest posting, dated Sunday. "Environmental problems are the world's problems, and every individual's."

Internet messages are also urging residents to send around text messages organizing mass "strolls" against the project.

Coastal Taizhou is a hub of chemical production, and the big plant would be a feather in the cap of local officials. "This is a rare historic opportunity, and a big project to enrich the people of Taizhou," said an official news report that announced the plan in April.

But residents and workers in Taizhou have long complained about water, air and fields putrid with pollution.

The proposed chemical production plant would make ethylene and paraxylene as part of a larger petroleum processing complex costing 60 billion yuan, or $8.8 billion, according to reports in the official Taizhou Daily.

A Taizhou city environmental official told Reuters that the project, led by China National Petroleum, was still in planning stages.

Originally published by Reuters, IHT.

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