SEPA Chief Resigns Over Harbin Disaster
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China's cabinet today approved the resignation request of Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), according to Xinhua News.
The joint circular from the general office of the Communist Party of China's (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council (China's cabinet) said that SEPA has underestimated the serious impact of the recent chemical spill on the Songhua River in northeastern China and is to blame for the losses caused by the incident.
The benzene released by a chemical plant explosion on November 13 moved through the major Chinese city of Harbin last week, forcing a shutdown of the city's water system for several days. The chemical-laden water is expected to enter Russian territory shortly. The long-term health consequences of the disaster are still being calculated.
China's cabinet has appointed Zhou Shengxian, former director of the State Forestry Administration, as the new SEPA minister.
Xie has become the highest-ranking official to be removed from office for an environmental incident since China activated the official accountability system during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in 2003. More than 1,000 officials, including then Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing Mayor Meng Xuenong, were sacked for their incompetence in SARS incident.
Xie Zhenhua, born in 1949, is a native of Tianjin Municipality. He joined the CPC in 1969 and graduated from the Engineering Physics Department of Tsinghua University. In the 1980s, Xie worked in Beijing in environmental organizations that were ultimately combined to form the State Environmental Protection Administration. In 1993, he became director of the State Environmental Protection Administration.