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Officials In Beijing Propose New Rules To Fight Air Pollution But Will They Be Enforced?
January 22, 2013
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Authorities in Beijing are proposing new rules to try to deal with the city's dangerous levels of air pollution and smog.

Under the draft legislation, officials could order factories to close when pollution hits unsafe levels and increase fines for drivers.

The plan comes a week after pollution levels in Beijing reached nearly 900, which is effectively off the charts.

In fact, the pollution was nearly 40 times higher than the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.

According to the Chinese paper, the Global Times, the legislation reads...

"in times of hazardous pollution, sources, including factories, vehicles, power plants, garbage incinerators, construction sites and even street kebab stalls and restaurants will be subject to shutdowns and restrictions, or face fines."

However, it doesn't mention a specific pollution level.

The proposed new rules call for higher fines for anyone who breaks the rules.

Construction sites could be fined anywhere from $1,500 to 15,000. Oil refineries and coal plants could be fined up to $60,000.

As well, small business owners, such as street vendors, could be fined up to $800 if they barbecue on a smoggy day. And drivers could be hit with a $500 fine if their vehicles exceed emissions.

Li Feifan made a documentary called 'Future Armageddon', which was shown on Chinese TV this week.

He spent two months filming the smog in Beijing, including this month when pollution levels skyrocketed.

His film features images of the same city skyline covered in different levels of smog, to drive home the point of how bad things are.

Today, it was featured on The Guardian's website. Check it out.

The legislation also calls for factories of all sizes to make information about their emissions available to the public.

Of course, it's one thing to write up rules. It's another thing to enforce them.

Zhang Yuanxun is a professor of resources and environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He told the Global Times "The punishments enshrined in the regulations are too strict and broad. It will require many more law enforcement officers to ensure its effective implementation."

"The old laws were not enforced, not to mention this new one," he said.

Feng Yongfeng is the founder of Green Beagle, an environmental group.

He told the China Daily the legislation "focuses more on public concerns, which shows the government has attached more importance to the voice of the people."

But in general, he said the fines aren't enough to stop larger polluting companies because it will cost them more to actually obey the law than to break it.


Other environmentalists say these rules won't be any better than a similar law passed in 2000, which was never really enforced.

"The regulations issued in 2000 are far out of date and needed to be updated. But there are not many changes in these revised ones," said Ma Jun, director with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

One of China's top environmental experts is 83-year-old Professor Qu Geping. He told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that the government has failed to protect the environment.

"I would not call the past 40 years' efforts of environmental protection a total failure," he said.

"But I have to admit that governments have done far from enough to rein in the wild pursuit of economic growth... and failed to avoid some of the worst pollution scenarios we, as policymakers, had predicted."

Qu also said that experts in China had strategies in place back in the early 80s, that balanced economic growth with the environment.

But he says the ruling party ignored them.

"Why was the strategy never properly implemented?" he said. "I think it is because there was no supervision of governments. It is because the power is still above the law.


The Morning Post also refers to Wang Jinnan, a deputy director at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning.

The paper says he "recently warned that 'the worst is yet to come' in terms of the mainland's pollution woes because the health impact would only gradually unfold."

China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. The World Bank estimates that China has 16 of the world's 20 most-polluted cities.

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