Beijing creates new environmental police squad to fight heavy smog

A woman wears a mask as she walks past a construction site as smog continues to choke Beijing on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. Photo: AP

Officials in Beijing are creating a new environmental police squad in the latest effort to fight China's persistent problems with heavy smog.

According to state media, Beijing's acting mayor Cai Qi said on Saturday that the new police force will focus on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and the burning of wood and other biomass.

"Open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, dust from roads - these acts of non-compliance with regulations are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement," Cai was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Cai announced several other measures, including a target of cutting the use of coal by 30 percent in 2017, and shutting down 500 higher-polluting factories and upgrading 2,500 more. About 300,000 high-pollution vehicles will also be restricted from entering the capital starting next month, he said.

Beijing and dozens of cities in China spend many winter days under a thick, gray haze, caused chiefly by thousands of coal-burning factories and a surplus of older, inefficient vehicles.

Pollution levels in Beijing and other Chinese cities regularly exceed World Health Organization guidelines and residents often live under a thick grey haze.

The public has been calling on the government to do more to address major sources of smog. But officials say unfavorable weather conditions in the capital have prevented pollutants from dispersing.

Smog is an acutely felt issue in China's cities, where a red alert can lead to the closure of schools and businesses, flight cancellations, and shutdowns of highways to keep cars off the roads. During a red alert in Beijing last month, authorities banned construction crews from spray-painting and even seized the charcoal grills from some restaurants.

But enforcement remains an issue. China's environmental ministry said during last week's red alert that its inspection teams found companies resuming production despite a government ban. Many factories remain under severe pressure to meet production targets regardless of air pollution.

Smog is an ongoing problem for China's Communist government as it tries to balance dealing with an economic slowdown and the challenge of maintaining growth with calls to stamp down on pollution.


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