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Northern China cities act to curb air pollution

2015-01-29 09:53 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

An air pollution control regulation passed on Tuesday at Tianjin Municipality's legislature seeks to curb the smog blanketing north China through concerted efforts with the city's neighbors.

The regulation, set to become effective this year, aims to boost coordination of measures designed to limit air pollution among the coastal municipality with Beijing and Hebei Province, an area in which Chinese leaders have called for greater integration.

It calls for a joint response to thick smog in the region and information sharing between the three jurisdictions. It also seeks to strengthen research into the problem and unify standards for pollution control.

China amended its environmental protection law in April last year, vowing harsher penalties for those failing to conform with environmental standards. Officials will be forced to resign for ineffective pollution prevention.

The Tianjin regulation has also raised the cost for polluting the air, subjecting companies and individuals to unlimited fines if they don't cease their polluting activities.

"Past penalties haven't done much to deter firms and they tend to relapse into their old polluting practices after paying the fines," said Gao Shaolin, a lawmaker in Tianjin.

Beijing also enacted a pollution control regulation last March in response to mounting public complaints about smog in the national capital.

The city failed to meet a key pollution reduction target last year, with the annual density of PM2.5 down four percent, compared with five percent set for the whole year.

PM2.5 refers to fine particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can be inhaled deep into human lungs, posing severe health hazards.

Beijing has become increasingly prone to smog in recent years, partly due to the rise of PM2.5 density in the atmosphere.

In review of the capital's implementation of its pollution control regulation, local lawmakers said the city has been lax in enforcing pollution discharge restraints and should step up pollution fines.

Authorities have pledged greater fiscal support for the drive against smog and plan to close down another 300 polluting factories this year.

Beijing is also calling for greater cooperation with neighboring Tianjin and Hebei Province as up to 36 percent of pollutants in Beijing are from other places, according to Beijing authorities.

A massive moratorium imposed over factories around the capital before and during the APEC summit in November has brought the city's air quality to the best level in 10 years.

While such extraordinary measures exacted sizable economic cost, dragging a gauge of manufacturing activities in China deeper into contraction territory in November, it shows what difference can be made when Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei work together.

Hebei, the province encircling Beijing and Tianjin, has paid the heaviest price for the campaign to clean the region's air. The provincial statistics agency said Hebei lost 1.75 percentage points in economic output and three percentage points in industrial production last year due to its effort to cut overcapacity in sectors such as cement, steel and glass, major sources of pollutants in the region.

The province is reported to have been drafting an action plan to tackle air pollution over the next three years. Details are expected to be made public in March.

"The choking smog is no longer a single city's problem and so it demands a regional solution," said Zhang Gui, an academic of regional integration at Hebei University of Technology.

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