China's environmental chief has blamed fraudulent environmental approvals and patchy installation of control equipment for rise in pollution, state media reported on Monday.
Pollution discharges increased in 17 provinces in the first half, despite a government pledge to cut emissions 2 per cent by the end of the year, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), as saying.
"Fraud in project approval was prominent, with many projects passing their environmental assessment without fulfilling the necessary criteria," Zhou said.
"It is clear the conflict between economic growth and environmental growth is coming to a head."
Zhou said last week government efforts to cut sulphur dioxide and other pollutants belching into China's hazy skies were failing and that China would rigorously enforce limits on industrial pollution as it seeks to tame frenetic economic growth.
China also wants to clean up its air before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
China has become the world's top emitter of acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide, with discharges rising 27 per cent from 2000 to 2005, mostly from coal-burning power stations.
In some counties, only 30 per cent of projects had been checked for pollution control compliance before receiving construction licences and nearly half of firms had failed to carry out required emission-control procedures, the paper quoted Zhou as saying.
"The growth in facilities to reduce emissions has lagged far behind the rapid expansion in new construction," Zhou said, adding that almost half of the new coal processing projects had failed to set up desulphurisation equipment.
"Monitoring new projects for pollution control and preventing approval fraud will be the priority of environmental officials in the second half of this year," Zhou said, warning that officials who ignored environmental protection would "pay the price."
China disciplined a clutch of senior officials for an accident during the construction of an unauthorised power plant in northern Inner Mongolia that killed six people and injured eight, the official Xinhua news agency reported last week.
For years China's ruling Communist Party has stressed economic expansion at almost any cost, but overheating, energy supply problems and environmental degradation mean Beijing now urges local governments to rein in fixed-asset investment growth, lower energy consumption and focus on environmental protection.