A cyclist wearing a face mask rides on a street on a smoggy day in Beijing, June 23, 2015. Beijing was hit by serious air pollution on Tuesday. (Photo: China News Service/Li Huisi)
Local governments must solicit public opinion before imposing driving restrictions to lower air pollution, a draft amendment to the Air Pollution Control Law reads.
The draft amendment -- tabled for a second reading Wednesday by the top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee -- gave provincial-level governments the authority to decide on driving restrictions but said they must take into account air pollution and vehicle emissions.
And "they must first solicit opinion from the public, experts and trade associations."
Public opinion will also be sought when setting air quality and air pollutant emission standards, according to the draft amendment, which added that the standards should be subject to regular assessment and revision.
The development came just as a spell of choking smog shrouded Beijing and the neighboring Tianjin municipality and Hebei Province.
The environment ministry said skies in the notoriously smoggy Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region are unlikely to clear up until Sunday, adding that it had asked cities in the region to activate emergency plans, including imposing driving restrictions, in case of heavy smog.
One year after the world's second-largest economy "declared war" on pollution following decades of pursuing growth at the expense of air, water and soil quality, air pollution remains the top concern of many citizens, particularly those living in big, industrial cities in central and eastern parts of the country.
According to a communique released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection earlier this month, only 16 of the 161 major cities subject to air quality monitoring met the national standards for clean air in 2014.
The other 145 cities failed to meet the new standard, which was implemented in 2013 and includes a PM2.5 index for monitoring airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. The tiny PM 2.5 can go deep into the lungs, posing a greater health threat than PM 10.
Some see vehicle emissions as a key contributor to poor air quality in megacities.
In many cities, including Beijing, road space policies are already in place to limit the number of cars traveling on the road.
Beijing even pulled half of the city's cars off the road during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings last year, allowing even-numbered license plate owners to drive on some days and odd-number drivers to drive on others.
While some support the traffic bans in favor of better air quality, others complain that the restrictions equate to encroachment on their rights.
A number of lawmakers have thus called for stricter procedural requirements for imposing driving restrictions, said Sun Baoshu with the NPC Law Committee.
By soliciting public opinions, the draft amendment is expected to help find a balance.
Sun said the lawmakers will further research on the subject in future deliberations.