A special inspection team was sent by the Qinghai provincial government on Wednesday after an illegal coal mine was reported to be continuously taking a toll on the province's State-protected nature reserve.
Li Jiexiang, Qinghai's executive vice-governor, was designated to lead the inspection team at the Muli coal mine, People.cn reported.
On Tuesday, the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper affiliated with the Xinhua News Agency, reported that large-scale illegal coal mining continued to devastate the local environment, and the owner of the mine is widely known as the "invisible richest man" in the province.
Ma Shaowei, chairman of Xingqing Company, which owns the mine, is suspected of making billions through illegal coal mining over the past 14 years, according to the report.
Muli sits at Tianjun county, Qinghai province. Neighboring Qilian Mountains Nature Reserve, Muli is the province's only site with rich coal resources. The Juhugeng No 1 mine field, where Xingqing Company is working, is one of the region's largest, with estimated coal reserves of 400 million metric tons.
The Qilian Mountains stand on the border of Gansu and Qinghai provinces. The nature reserve was designated a national protected site in 1988. However, many illegal mining projects and hydropower stations have sprung up as a result of lax supervision in recent years, inflicting significant damage on the environment.
Qinghai provincial authorities have revised local environmental protection regulations to ban production activities, including mining, in the core and buffer zones of the nature reserve.
Since 2017, the central government has initiated two rounds of high-profile environmental inspections, including one in the Qilian Mountains, which have been plagued by decades of logging, mining, the building of factories and tourism.
However, reporters from Economic Information Daily had visited the company's mining site several times in recent months and were astonished to find that illegal mining continued to damage the local ecosystem as of late July.
The case has attracted attention from the local government. The Haixi prefecture government, where the mine is located, has sent a special team for further investigation, online news portal ThePaper.cn reported on Wednesday.
An anonymous employee from Xingqing Company told ThePaper.cn that in the past their mining work would resume after the inspection team or law enforcement workers left.