Campaign to improve air quality in northern regions successful
About 70 percent of companies visited by inspectors in the past two weeks were violating environmental rules, said the national environmental authority, which plans to strengthen enforcement against air pollution to increase blue skies in northern regions.
"In the ongoing yearlong inspection in 28 cities in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and neighboring provinces of Shandong, Shanxi and Henan, inspectors checked 4,077 companies, of which 2,808 were found to have various violations," Tian Weiyong, head of the monitoring department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said on Friday.
The majority of the violations were from small, polluting companies, and more than 56,000 such companies will be shut down by the end of October, Tian said.
But some polluting companies refused to receive inspectors, and in one case in Jinan, Shandong province, the owner and workers locked inspectors inside the plant for over an hour until police rescued them.
People interfering with inspections will face tough punishment including fines, administrative detention up to 10 days or criminal sentences of up to three years in prison, he said.
In 2017, China set large reduction targets for the concentration of air pollutants, especially for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, while many cities in the region have seen increasing pollution levels in the first two months of the year.
"In the monthlong inspection conducted in mid-February, we saw the controls work in some areas," he said, adding that the strengthened inspections are expected to work better.
China has strengthened law enforcement and supervision in environmental protection by administering stronger punishment, adopting better monitoring equipment and taking targeted measures, Tian said.
Data from the ministry showed that in 2016 China imposed 6.63 billion yuan ($963 million) in fines on polluters, 56 percent above 2015 levels.
And companies that received fines on a daily basis - a new measure in the revised Environmental Protection Law - have seen total fines reaching 264 million yuan in the first quarter of 2017.
In addition, environmental authorities sealed the production equipment of polluting companies in 1,228 cases in the first three months of the year, triple the number in the same period last year.
Independent assessment reports from academic institutions applauded the stronger enforcement of environmental laws.
Wang Canfa, environmental law professor from China University of Political Science and Law, said the enforcement has effectively deterred polluters, and his team's surveys found that excessive emission problems from heavy metal companies had been reduced.