Beijing passes strict air pollution regulation

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The municipal legislature of Beijing on Wednesday passed a regulation on air pollution featuring emission controls and harsher penalties in the city's latest effort to battle severe smog.

The Beijing Municipal People's Congress voted in favor of the regulation, the first of its kind for the Chinese capital, replacing a guideline issued in 2000.

The regulation aims to lower the density of airborne fine particles, which are measured by the PM2.5 index and are held accountable for the regular outbreaks of hazy conditions in the city.

It says Beijing will limit and gradually reduce the total discharge of major air pollutants with a slew of measures including setting yearly quotas for district- and county-level governments and individual polluters, cutting coal burning and limiting car emissions.

This will be the first time that Beijing has set targets to curb its total pollutant emissions, said Fang Li, vice head of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. The previous guideline targeted only the growth of emissions.

"If we compare smoggy Beijing to an obese man, the previous control on emission growth was like asking him to eat less, but our expectation now is that he must try harder to actually lose weight," said Yu Jianhua, the bureau's director in charge of air pollution.

Beijing will raise fines on air pollution violations and scrap limits on such fines, according to the regulation, which also stresses criminal punishments for those whose acts constitute crimes.

ENVIRONMENT AS PRIORITY

The regulation says the city will follow the principle of prioritizing the environment in its treatment of air pollution.

"It states clearly that if GDP growth clashes with environmental protection, we should make the latter the priority," said Li Xiaojuan, director of the legal office of the Beijing Municipal People's Congress Standing Committee.

The legislation came at a time when public concerns have been heightened over the city's frequent bouts of smog. The metropolis reported 58 days of serious pollution last year, when its average PM2.5 index was more than double the new national standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

Public complaints have prompted Beijing to unveil a five-year plan (2013- 2017) to improve air quality through measures such as slashing coal consumption, promoting clean energy use and reducing production capacities with heavy pollution.

"The regulation came just in time to meet the urgent need of Beijing to tackle its serious air pollution, which is not just a quality-of-life issue, but also an economic and political problem," said Min Qingwen, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a city legislator.

TOFU LAW?

Some environmentalists, however, criticized the regulation for being too lenient.

They pointed out that a mooted rule about levying a "daily penalty" was not included in the final version. The rule, which allows heavy-hitting pollution penalties on a daily basis, would have significantly increased the price for being a long-time polluter.

"The situation now is that the cost for violating the law is too low," according to Wang Jinnan, vice dean of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning and a city legislator, who feared the regulation may end up a soft and unbinding "tofu law."

Responding to the accusations, Li Xiaohua explained that the Beijing regulation could not include penalties tougher than what had been stipulated in the national laws on environmental protection and air pollution.

"The good news is that the two laws are being amended, so hopefully they will include the tougher penalties so we can implement them," Li said.

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