China’s pollution problems cost the country more than US$200 billion a year, a top official said Monday as he called for better legal protection for grass roots groups so they can help the government clean up the environment. Zhu Guangyao, deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Agency, estimated that damage to China’s environment is costing the government roughly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. China’s GDP for 2005 was US$2.26 trillion. Despite government efforts, China’s environmental picture is not improving, but worsening, he said, and "allows for no optimism." Zhu said environmental nongovernment organizations can play "important roles in promoting or pushing governments" to solve environmental problems. He acknowledged that some local officials were not implementing the the central government’s guidelines very well. Zhu said implementing the central government’s guidelines would also be a challenge for local officials who are accustomed to being judged on growth above all else and are fearful of the economic impact of tighter environmental controls. "Local environmental NGOs do not dare criticise local governments for their unscientific decisions," Zhu said. "Some local governments are reluctant to implement or are even working against environmental laws." He also listed seven tasks as the major environmental protection work in the coming five years. The most important task is water pollution control, with focus on drinking water security. The second is to step up urban environmental protection, especially the pollutants control in cities. He highlighted the reduction of sulfur dioxide discharge as the focal work in air pollution control, the third of the tasks. Other tasks include rural environmental protection, with emphasis on soil pollution control, eco-system protection, enhancement of nuclear and other radioactive sources security and implementation of the state environmental protection projects. Only these tasks be fulfilled can we achieve the environmental protection targets set by the 11th Five-Year Program, Zhu said.