China’s sinking coal-mining towns are largely the result of a failure to implement existing environmental legislation, a top geological expert has told RFA. A three-decades-long coal-mining boom in the northern province of Shanxi has left hundreds of communities in imminent danger of sinking into the ground.
The Shanxi authorities say they now plan to relocate some 655,000 residents by the end of next year from former mining regions now deemed unsafe. The industry has cost the government around 77 billion yuan (U.S. $11.6 million) in economic losses, local officials estimate.
Yang Yong, a subsidence expert based in the southwestern city of Chengdu, told RFA that Shanxi had paid a heavy environmental price for its massive contribution to the Chinese economy through coal production.
“There have been laws for quite some time in China saying that remedial operations must be undergone in mining areas, and limiting the amount of exploitation that can happen near river beds, major roads or infrastructure projects,” Yang said.
He said the rules also require mining operators to ensure the safety of villages on the surface near the mines.
“Pits that are opened up underground are supposed to be filled in again afterwards,” Yang said. “The same goes for open-cast mining.”
Yang said local officials are to blame for failing to implement the regulations.
“Why don’t they play a supervisory role?” he said. “Why are these rules not worth the paper they are written on?”
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