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China pollution

Chinese pollution curbs must consider needs of businesses, says environment minister

  • Environment minister Li Ganjie warns officials against ‘crude’ blanket bans that could harm economy
  • Pollution controls set to be eased this winter as growth stalls and US trade war starts to take effect
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 6:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 6:28am

China’s environment watchdog has warned against the use of “simple and crude” anti-pollution measures that would hurt businesses.

Li Ganjie, the Minister of Ecology and Environment, told a two-day conference that ended on Saturday that the increasingly uncertain economic outlook added another layer of complexity to environmental policy, along with other factors such as the slow pace of economic structural adjustment.

Li said the ministry would forbid blanket bans on factory operations and said officials must use their discretion when applying pollution controls to different sectors and regions.

Observers had predicted that its pollution curbs would be less severe this winter compared with last year as economic growth slows and the trade war with the US takes its toll.

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China has introduced a series of measures to curb the country’s notorious pollution problem and President Xi Jinping has told officials to consider the impact on the environment, rather than going all-out for economic growth, under his plan for the country’s development.

In practice, however, many local officials have reacted by closing down all factories before central government inspection teams arrive to monitor pollution levels, regardless of whether those factories meet environmental standards or not.

“We will go after officials both for being slack as well as for imposing arbitrary measures,” Li told the conference.

Li also said that those responsible for implementing environmental protections should ensure a fair environment for business to operate in, and criticised the use of blanket curbs in some areas for “hurting the image of the party and the government, the legitimate rights of enterprises, and causing inconvenience to the public”.

Last winter, the central government banned the burning of coal in Beijing and neighbouring regions in Hebei province in a bid to cut winter smog.

But the policy was implemented before sufficient supplies of natural gas had been secured, leaving thousands of households without heat over the winter.

Unlike the blanket bans imposed on industrial production last winter in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the ministry said last month that it would let steel plants continue producing as long as their emissions met standards.

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It also said it would give local governments control over the production curbs, allowing them to set their own targets according to local conditions.

Previously central governments had sent out inspection teams to check that local governments were complying with anti-pollution directives.