SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s environment ministry on Friday called out officials in a northwestern coal producing zone for lacking the “will” to fight pollution, the latest region to come under scrutiny in Beijing’s war on smog.
In its latest review of how regions are complying with tougher pollution laws, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment singled out Ningxia for criticism on the day China said the country’s coal output hit its highest in nine months in September.
Some districts and departments in Ningxia did not have the “will” or confidence to control pollution, inspectors said in a report in the China Environment News, a ministry publication.
They said Ningxia’s economic and trade commission had submitted reports alleging that environmental protection was a “burden on industrial growth”.
The commission blamed a tougher smog control and inspection regime for a slowdown in industrial activity, despite what inspectors said were “obvious errors” in the commission’s data.
“They (the commission) tried to get rid of their responsibility and interfere with decision making,” the inspectors said.
Ningxia, a poor and drought-prone region, wants to exploit its reserves of coal and export electricity through a beefed-up power grid. But it has been forced to shut down 32 small coal mines and millions of tonnes of annual production capacity in sectors like steel and aluminum since a national clean-up campaign began in 2016.
Ningxia is the latest region to be chastised by the environment ministry for failing to enforce anti-pollution measures. Three cities in Jiangsu were accused this week of exaggerating coal consumption cuts last year.
Hebei, the biggest steel producing region, came under fire on Thursday, with inspectors criticizing some officials for not rectifying previous failings in controlling pollution.
Hebei’s dependence on fossil fuels remained high, with coal accounting for 83.6 percent of the province’s primary energy consumption, 23 percentage points higher than the national average, the ministry said.
Officials have faced some form of punishment as a result of the latest round of poor environmental reviews. In the three regions reported so far, 1,439 officials were held responsible for violations, of which 707 were reprimanded and 183 detained.
The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is one of China’s most industrialized, with Hebei province producing nearly a quarter of the country’s steel. It has been on the front line of the country’s war on pollution for more than four years.
The region is about to embark on another tough winter campaign against smog, with inspectors set to force industrial factories to curb output if they have not done enough to clean up their operations.
Vice Premier Han Zheng said on Thursday authorities must ensure residents have enough heating this winter, even as thousands of households switch from coal to cleaner natural gas.
Han, who leads a cross-ministerial committee to tackle pollution in the region, said it was “absolutely forbidden” to dismantle boilers and leave households without a source of heat, the Xinhua news agency said.
Parts of the region were left without heating last year after governments demolished coal-burning boilers but failed to secure enough natural gas as a replacement fuel.
Hebei was home to four of China’s 10 cities with the poorest air quality, according to data for the first nine months of 2018. That is down from six cities in 2017.
Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Darren Schuettler