New China protests erupt over petrochemical plant


BEIJING -- Protests against a planned oil refinery and petrochemicals facility broke out in southwest China for the second time this month, as pressure mounted on local leaders over environmental impact of the project.

Local activists are demanding that officials scrap plans to produce the chemical paraxylene, known as PX, as part of the refinery under construction nearby. Many are outraged that local officials won't release the results of an environmental impact assessment of the project, according to activists and local media.

Production of PX in proximity to urban centers is of particular concern for those who fear industrial mishaps at the facilities could put the health of local residents and the environment at risk.

Kunming's mayor, Li Wenrong, last week promised to take into account opposition to the planned petrochemical facility, even pledging to scrap the project if a majority of residents expressed opposition.

Opposition to the project has so far largely targeted the planned petrochemicals facility, though some residents say they oppose the oil refinery as well being in proximity to the city.

PX production is booming in China. The chemical is a critical building block in the production of textiles and plastics, and industry advocates say under normal conditions it can be produced safely and without threat to humans.

But its production has repeatedly come under fire in recent years from residents in multiple Chinese cities who fear it will damage their health as well as the environment. Following protests in 2007 in the eastern city of Xiamen, local officials pledged to move a planned PX plant away from the popular tourist town.

Similarly, in 2011, officials promised to close a plant in the northeast city of Dalian after more than 10,000 people took to the streets in protest of PX production there. State media reported in December that relocation work for the Dalian plant was still under way.

Concerns over transparency and locating the planned refinery so close to the city underpin resistance in Kunming. Residents have demanded officials release results of a government required environmental impact assessment. Others have called for third party groups to be allowed to conduct an independent assessment of the planned refinery, which has already been approved by China's National Development and Reform Commission, its top economic planning body.

Dow Jones Newswires

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