Qinhuangdao Western Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Project was jointly planned by the Qinhuangdao Municipal Government and private company Zhejiang Weiming Environment Protection Co., Ltd. (浙江伟明环保股份有限公司). The agreement was signed on 7 November 2008 with a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) form between Qinhuangdao Urban Administrative Enforcement Bureau and Zhejiang Weiming. It was meant to be completed in August 2011.
The project is located at Panguanying Village, Liushouying Town of Funing County (抚宁, as Funing District since 2015) in Qinhuangdao city. The plant occupies about 70 mu of farming land from Panguanying Village. The installed capacity of power generation is 12,000 KW (12MW), while the waste disposal and treatment capacity will become 1,000 tons per day with an annual increase of 50 tons from 600 tons at the beginning. It will serve Beidaihe District, Funing County (including Nandaihe Tourist Area), Changli County (including the Gold Coast Tourist Area), Lulong County and some other regions. The total investment is about 327,448,400 yuan, of which 3028,559,500 yuan is from Zhejiang Weiming, the complement part will be provided by the local government.
The project was not noticed by most of the villagers until 14 April 2009, when Pan Zuofu (PZF), who later became a key activist, noticed local cadres encircling collective village farmland tenured by several families in Panguanying and a neighboring village. Upon inquiring, PZF realized that was for a waste incinerator, but the site is just a few hundred meters away from Panguanying. A small crowd of villagers confronted the village head about the sale of collective land without their prior knowledge in the same evening. However, the village head referred to orders from higher levels, cautioned farmer PZF not to make trouble, and told the villagers to contact relevant higher-level authorities to voice concern.
After learning more about the project, PZF and a knowledgeable senior farmer, Pan Qingwen (PQW) gathered a small group of villagers to contest the illegal sale of collective land and several flaws in the project’s approval and decision-making process, they petitioned higher-level authorities from the town to the provincial level, demanded that construction be halted and that the land be returned to its original state. By mid-May 2009, however, various government departments involved in the project confirmed its legality. The Hebei Province Environmental Protection Bureau (Hebei EPB) approved the project’s EIA, upon which construction began. Villagers’ continued petitioning efforts remained unanswered until September 2009, when the Funing county government bowed to mounting public pressure by temporarily halting construction based on procedural flaws identified by the villagers and their petition to the National Land Resource Ministry.
In May 2010, the resumed construction work brought new urgency to the villagers, as local industries, including the paper mill, a fertilizer plant, and a slaughterhouse, had already seriously polluted the local environment, and cancer rates in the village had been high for years, warnings about environmental pollution and health hazards, particularly dioxin-related cancer risks, resonated with villagers. After the 29th International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants – Dioxin 2009 held in Beijing, the China Central Television (CCTV) released a special feature of “Half Hour Economy” entitled “Dioxins are Tormenting China”, which dramatized the link between dioxins and cancer. With this, a growing national public and media debate about incineration, sparked by growing contention against waste incinerator projects and increasingly outspoken opposition by environmental organizations and experts, like the Liulitun case reached Panguanying, villagers started to discover that other communities were also struggling against incinerators. Importantly, the realization that the incinerator could threaten public health inspired another important man, Pan Zhizhong (PZZ), to join the campaign. He distributed copies of “Dioxins are Tormenting China” and other materials from the Internet to local people to raise awareness. This resulted in 1,500 villagers (from Panguanying and surrounding villages) signing a petition against the incinerator. Pan Zhizhong then visited every village within a five-kilometer radius of the incinerator site and collected handwritten statements from 37 village heads expressing opposition to the project.
Town and city government officials visited the villages to defend the plant and promised that no pollution would result from the incinerator. However, villagers now possessed critical information from authoritative sources and an alternative cognitive framework with which to critically assess the government’s claims. When local officials threatened to charge campaigners with trouble-making and the illegal distribution of leaflets, they countered that distributing an official CCTV program was not illegal, nor was distributing leaflets that they had not written. Villagers imitated the Liulitun residents’ strategies, and their claims increasingly centered on the project’s environmental and health hazards rather than land. They contended that the siting decision was unlawful due to procedural flaws, the environmental and health threats confronting the approximately 80,000 residents within a 5 km radius, and the facility’s siting on a large stretch of farmland. Their “opinion booklet” also criticized the social injustice of exposing rural dwellers to harmful incineration of waste mainly produced by urban residents, questioning incineration as a suitable waste treatment strategy.
Assisted by an Environmental Lawyer, Xia, the Panguanying Villagers filed an administrative review application with the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and two other provincial-level institutions in August 2010, challenging the Hebei EPB’s earlier decision to approve the project due to procedural flaws. The MEP accepted the case in mid-September and requested written statements from all involved parties, including the Hebei EPB and Zhejiang Weiming, who disputed the charges. During the administrative review process, the MEP had disclosed the written statements to the farmers. In them, the Hebei EPB and Zhejiang Weiming referred to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted in early 2009 by the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences (中国气象科学研究院, CAMS). They claimed that, consistent with the law, this EIA had been publicized locally and that public opinion had been solicited through the distribution of 100 questionnaires, with the vast majority of respondents supporting the project. This agitated the villagers, who suspected foul-play.
With help from Beijing-based environmental organization Nature University, Lawyer Xia and the Chinese ‘no-burn’ community’s leading expert – Prof. Zhao Zhangyuan who visited Panguanying in November 2010 to investigate, concluding that the location was unsuitable for constructing an incinerator and that the entire EIA was severely flawed, villagers were well informed about incineration, experiences of other affected communities, and possible courses of action. Nature University members strongly urged the farmers to pursue a legal course of action and avoid violent clashes with the state; they raised the case’s profile by attracting media attention and disseminated the villagers’ claims via their personal networks and social media.
Armed with new information and intermediary support, in January 2011 villagers launched an administrative lawsuit with a Shijiazhuang court against the Hebei EPB’s decision to approve the incinerator. Following Xia’s advice, they centered their allegations on the EIA flaws discovered by Professor Zhao, which proved successful. During the evidence collection procedures for the lawsuit, the Hebei EPB released a wide collection of internal government documents and the full EIA report. This included the 100 public participation questionnaires allegedly distributed to villagers, as well as the protocol of a villager representative meeting convened by the village committee in March 2009, where the villagers had allegedly signed in support of the project.
Through these documents, it was firmly proved that the public participation process for the EIA had been forged. They verified that, although participants in the March 2009 meeting had indeed signed a document, they only did so to confirm receipt of a 10 RMB participation fee, and not in support of the incinerator. Furthermore, visits to villagers whose names and signatures had appeared on the questionnaires yielded written statements from them that they had ‘never seen this questionnaire, do not know who signed it, and do not agree with the construction of the incinerator’. In early March 2011, the Pans presented this evidence to the Shijiazhuang court as evidence. They wrote a lengthy letter to the MEP and also contacted a Phoenix Weekly journalist, who visited Panguanying and wrote a lengthy article about the case .Confronted with fresh evidence, the Hebei EPB ordered an immediate construction halt. Three days before a court hearing scheduled for 30 May it revoked its official approval of the project EIA after discovering that the court would rule in favor of the villagers due to flaws in the EIA process. The EPB ordered another EIA to be conducted, and in the meantime suspended all EIA applications for Qinhuangdao City. Having achieved their aims, the Pans withdrew their lawsuit in early June.
The controversy didn’t end there. Later in the same month, June 2011, Nature University staff discovered that Zhejiang Weiming had applied for the project to be granted Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) status in mid-June, they worried that this status would help justify the project’s restart. In June 2011, eight Chinese environmental organizations submitted a critical comment on the project to UNFCCC with support from transnational organizations Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and CDM Watch; five of these organizations petitioned the MEP in an open letter to bar CAMS from conducting EIAs based on the fraud practiced in Panguanying and Sujiatuo but CAMS was not demoted until January 2013. After MEP announced that it had accepted Zhejiang Weiming’s application to conduct an environmental examination as a prerequisite for its stock market entrance, both villagers and environmental organizations petitioned the MEP to deny the application. As representatives of the villagers, the Pans launched an administrative redress challenging the MEP’s decision to ratify Zhejiang Weiming’s IPO application and, after its failure, two successive lawsuits against the MEP. Although these appeals reached the Beijing Municipality Higher People’s Court, they were dismissed in September 2012.
In late 2011, Qiao Yanli(QYL), the former village head, had been forced to resign from office by the infuriated villager community. As an incinerator proponent, he had refused to provide this stamp. Villagers believed that, if one of them could be elected village head, they could halt the project once and for all by dismantling the construction site and returning the land to its original agricultural designation. The periodic village election in Panguanying should be in early 2011, however, it was delayed until November 2012 due to the waste incineration issue. PZZ stood for the November 2012 election with broad support among the villagers. However, this election was disrupted by local thug allegedly linked to Township officials. A subsequent one was scheduled one month later in December 2012, more than 100 people in Panguanying, broke into vote-counting rooms at a local primary school, and disrupted the "illegal" election as one of the villagers said: “we don’t recognize this election because the village election committee members were not recommended by us villagers. The committee cheated on the votes and threatened villagers”. The failure of elections left the village without a head for several years. Many journalists, environmentalists, and researchers observed and recorded the election process .
In a later report, the village activists expressed that they would like to build an environmental museum on the uncompleted incineration plant. The Qinhuangdao Municipal government is also trying to promote environmental education and waste sorting among the citizens.