New rules to curb Beijing’s air pollution will impose harsher punishments on those responsible for smog
By Sophie Yeo
Companies responsible for Beijing’s heavy air pollution will face harsher punishment as from 1 March, including unlimited fines for repeat offenders.
Beijing’s new Air Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations will mean stricter punishments for those who break the rules designed to quash the hazardous levels of pollution that have beset China’s capital city.
The Beijing Municipal People’s Congress voted on the legislation on 22 January last year.
Under these new rules, polluting companies that refuse to reduce or suspend their production during bouts of severe pollution will be fined up to 500,000 yuan (US$ 80,000), up from 100,000 yuan, state media reports. Punishments will increase for repeat offenders, with no cap on the amount that they can be fined.
Zhong Chonglei, an official at the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, said: “The new regulations increase the fines for industrial violators to up to 500-thousand yuan. Companies found breaking the law again and again will be punished even more.
“The new rules also include compulsory measures which will allow authorities to terminate illegal activities immediately, including illegal emissions.”
The new regulation kicks in as Beijing starts to recover its health from the thick blanket of smog that has choked the city and its residents for almost a week, leading authorities to issue its first ever “orange” warning, signalling a serious health crisis.
In Beijing, and in other cities across China, air quality has worsened over the past decade as the government pursues a model of “growth at all costs”. China currently produces almost half the world’s total volume of coal, according to the IEA.
Anger at the government for their failure to curb the problem has reached fever pitch over the past week, as Beijing residents struggled in a smog that was literally “off the chart” bad.
The US State Department, which records the air quality, considers PM2.5 particle levels higher than 500 as “beyond index”, or higher than their measurement scale will record. The usually automated Twitter account briefly described the pollution as “crazy bad” – a tweet which was widely circulated before being deleted.
State media, normally reserved in its criticism of the government, has spoken out against their failure to curb the air pollution.
Writing today in state owned China Daily, deputy editor Chen Weihua complained that, while officials are arrested for “corruption and sex scandals”, no one has so far lost their job for allowing the rampant pollution that is consuming China’s cities.
“So far, which companies had to declare bankruptcy due to the heavy penalties imposed for the serious pollution they caused? How many business owners were put behind bars for the damage they inflicted on the environment?” he writes.
“The laws may have been there for years or decades, yet they are not strictly enforced, or not enforced at all. In fact, such lax enforcement has invited more rampant violations in the past decades.”
He added that China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has little power and “no accountability”.
A man from Shijiazhuang, the capital of the northern province of Hebei, has become the first person in China to sue the government for failing to curb air pollution, another state-run newspaper, the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily, reported on Tuesday.
Policies by the Chinese government have to the growth of Chinese coal consumption to slow, according to figures released by the China National Coal Association in January. They report that in 2013 growth slowed to 2.6% year on year.
Policies include the implementation of seven regional emissions trading schemes, including in Shanghai and Beijing. This is intended to precede a national carbon market. China’s finance minister has also said that he would support a carbon tax.
“The government is not neglecting these problems,” says Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard China Project. “It is frantic about them…But the problems are very hard.”