Blogger 'Scared' After Appealing to Obama to Help Save China's Environment

PHOTO: Skyscrapers are obscured by heavy haze in Beijing Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.
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"Help needed…I am scared." - Environmental blogger 'B.Y.' in protest of PetroChina chemical plant

A 20-something blogger in China has attracted regime attention for appealing to President Obama to help save China's environment.

On May 7 the blogger, who goes by the initials "B.Y.," posted an online petition on the White House website "We the People." The petition asked for support against the state-owned corporation PetroChina's plans to build a new chemical plant. Located 25 miles outside the capital city of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, it would produce 10 million tons of oil and 800,000 tons of ethylene per year.

Local residents are expressing concern the future plant's location is dangerously close to a seismic fault line and that once up and running production will exacerbate air and water pollution.

The "We the People" website is a free forum that promises any petition to receive 100,000 signatures in 30 days will qualify for a White House response. As of this writing B.Y.'s petition had received just 2,100 signatures. But before solicitations for support could be widely circulated online in China, B.Y. claims a security agent asked her to delete the petition.

In an interview with the South Morning China Post, an independent newspaper published in Hong Kong, B.Y. said an agent tracked her down using "registration information on Weibo" and invited her to "tea," an euphemism for a police interrogation.

But the "We the People" site does not have a delete function. B.Y. posted another message on Weibo asking for help, writing, "The police have talked to me, I am scared." Within days, that post was deleted.

This week, searches online for "Chengdu Girl" and "Petro-chemical" elicited the following message: "According to relevant law and policy, the result you are searching for cannot be shown."

According to a report in the Associated Press, B.Y. was allowed to return home, despite being unable to remove her "We the People" petition.

The White House said it does not provide any information on those who file petitions to outside inquiries.

B.Y. was not the first to object to the plant online. In response to growing opposition this spring, PetroChina promised that it will adhere to environmental safety standards. It has also argued that in the long run the plant will improve air quality because it will produce a higher-grade gasoline for automobiles.

In a statement the company pledged: "We promise not to start production unless the plant passes environmental protection tests."

Residents are not convinced. On Thursday in Kunming online reports cited over 1,000 protesters calling for the new plant to be cancelled. Photographs show a large but peaceful crowd gathered outside government offices. [http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1238809/live-updates-kunming-residents-protest-petrochemical-plant] One demonstrator is wearing a protective mask and holding a sign that read "Democracy: it is beginning!" Photographs also show a massive police presence with dozens of officers lining the streets to control the crowds.

In an unusual but not unheard of event under China's new leader Xi Jinping, Kunming Mayor Li Wenrong appeared at the protest and took questions.

According to reports online, Li said the government needed to heed public opinion and do a better job of explaining the project. He promised public hearings on the refinery and said if he did not personally start a Weibo account himself by Friday he would step down.

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