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Hebei warned to reduce smog ahead of APEC

2014-10-16 09:32 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

North China's Hebei Province, a region with some of China's worst air pollution, is finding it difficult to balance economic prosperity with the necessary cuts to industries to remedy its pollution problem, which is particularly pressing given the province's proximity to Beijing.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) Tuesday criticized Hebei for not doing enough to curb the causes of the smog that shrouded northern China for nearly a week from October 6.

The latest of the MEP monthly reports, which measure the air quality of 74 major cities, said that seven out of the 10 smoggiest cities are in Hebei, one of the country's most important industrial provinces, which produces nearly one-fifth of the national steel output every year.

One of the worst cities, Xingtai, recently caught public attention with a banner expressing pride that it was no longer the city with the country's worst air pollution.

When the monthly MEP report came out in August, Xingtai residents felt they should celebrate, so they hung the banner outside a building opposite the city's environmental protection bureau, an employee working at the bureau told the Global Times.

The employee said that the bureau's officials have been busy attending meetings these days, and noted that local officials are not only concerned about a new bout of smog predicted to arrive on Friday, but also over the air quality during the upcoming APEC meetings in Beijing.

A meeting held in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang in September resulted in measures to combat air pollution during the upcoming APEC meet. The measures include limiting production at more than 2,300 enterprises and factories. According to news portal 163.com, many of them are major steel producers which produced more than 212 million tons of steel in 2013, accounting for over 90 percent of the provincial production.

"Waste gas and heavy metal generated during steel processing have been perceived to be major polluters that caused the serious air pollution in Hebei," Zhang Yuanxun, a professor of environmental sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times.

Hebei was ordered to slash production capacity by 60 million tons by 2017.

In November 2013, the province demolished 26 furnaces and boilers at eight steel plants. More than 11 million tons of steel production capacity was estimated to have been cut through this move.

"It's just like taking money out of the provincial government's pocket," said Ye Tanglin, an urbanization expert with the Capital University of Economics and Business.

In 2013, with added value of 380 billion yuan ($61.9 billion), the steel industry provided more than 7 percent of Hebei's GDP, which ranked sixth in China, according to figures from the Hebei government.

Local governments in Hebei also have to tackle the unemployment problem, Ye said.

The Hebei Metallurgical Industry Association data shows that the industry provides 610,000 jobs for local people.

"Officials at various levels will be under great pressure because there is a big gap to fill, especially when the sacrifices made for improving air quality haven't worked yet," Ye said.

Ye said it is a chance for Hebei to adjust its industrial structure. "The gap could be filled when Beijing moves its extra administrative, medical and education functions out to Hebei to balance the development in the whole area."

But Zhang said that to solve the air pollution in the long-term, Hebei should not only focus on "obvious sources of pollution like heavy industries."

"Many sources of air pollution have not been identified," Zhang said. "The MEP should publicize more details about the PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) to further study how widespread smog comes into being."

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