Passengers head home at a railway station in Xi'an on a smoggy day, Jan 17, 2017. [Photo/IC]
LOCAL ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORITIES and other parties concerned will be held accountable for poor performance in curbing air pollution, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Friday. Beijing News commented on Sunday:
The sternly worded announcement by the country's top environmental authority came just one day after senior officials in Linfen, North China's Shanxi province, were summoned to explain their failure to control the sulfur dioxide emissions that have plagued the city for weeks. Several new projects in the city were suspended as a result of their incompetence.
Linfen has fallen prey to alarmingly high concentrations of sulfur dioxide; exceeding 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter four times since Jan 4. The national standard is 60 micrograms per cubic meter. The local government did not issue alerts for severe air pollution, nor did it take effective measures to reduce the pollution or rein in the use of coal-fueled boilers and plants as required.
About 3,422 officials in eight provinces have been reportedly held accountable for similar dereliction of their duty, and the penalties could get tougher as the Ministry of Environmental Protection has pledged to punish all responsible parties in cities suffering from severe air pollution.
Although the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region saw improvements in air quality in 2016, further actions are still needed to reduce the days of smothering smog.
The top environmental protection authority has reason to add teeth to the enforcement of relevant laws. Few top local officials have been held responsible for the terrible air quality, and reprimands have usually only been given to those of lower ranks for failing to carry specific orders. That is hardly enough to make a difference, because the fight against air pollution demands deep reflection from the top down, not just some "directly involved" officials.
That one local government endorsed a pollution-prone program and asked the environmental protection bureau to approve it by allowing it to pass the necessary environmental impact assessments is even more disgraceful. Local decision-makers are obliged to take the responsibility for such actions instead of making their underlings the scapegoat.