China accuses energy agency of negligence of environmental protection

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese central government inspection team has accused the country's energy administration of negligence in environmental protection, failing to control new coal power capacity in key polluted areas.

The team from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), in its latest round of audits, found that the National Energy Administration (NEA) lacked concern for environmental protection when promoting energy development, the MEE said in a statement late on Friday.

"New coal power capacity at key areas for air pollution was not strictly controlled, leading to what should be built was not built and what shouldn't was built."

NEA officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The teams were launched at the end of 2015 with the full authority of the ruling Communist Party leadership.

The latest inspections began in August as experts expressed concern that sharp falls in air pollution due to steps to control COVID-19 could reverse due to efforts to revive economic growth.

Many major energy projects have been arranged but with scant requirements for supporting environmental protection measures, the MEE said on Friday. It said the NEA lowered environmental specifications when revising a coal law and did not focus enough on promoting clean energy and a low-carbon transition.

Random inspection of three provinces found that 121 coal mines' had announced capacity that was 30% more than approved, the statement said.

"The failure to put environmental protection at its due height... is a major reason for long-term extensive development in China's energy industry," it said.

The inspection team had asked the NEA to speed up researching rectification plans and report to the party's central committee and the government's State Council within 30 workdays.

(Reporting by Min Zhang and Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by William Mallard)